Grief is the experience we go through after a loss. The losses we grieve for most are the losses of the most deep and important connections we have. For example, the loss of a loved one to death, a relationship to separation or even the loss of an object that you hold dear such as your business or a family heirloom. Grief is often described as a painful and stressful experience for grieving and can often go on for long periods of time before we adapt to the loss we have suffered. Understanding how grief happens to us, lends us an understanding that certain experiences are very normal and gives a sense of movement to the experience.

The stages of grief

The stages of grief are commonly known, however the specific stages, number of stages and representations or these stages vary depending on the theory.  This variability, however, tends to follow the same ideas and they generally overlap. The stages usually identified tend to stem from Kubler Ross’ stages of dying (1973) which focus on the stages that occur to the dying themselves. These stages are; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But there are other models for this process such as Bowlby and Parkes’ stages of grief; numbness, pining, disorganization and reorganization. We can see lots of parallels in these models and knowing a few can help you to develop a better resolution idea for what grieving entails

Here is a six stage model of the grief process by Andrew Reeves in the book: ‘An introduction to Counselling and Psychotherapy: from theory to practice’. The model blends both Kubler Ross’ stages grief and William Worden’s stages of grief and goes as such:

  • Shock and Denial: The suddenness of the loss will create a numbness towards the event as a means of reducing anxiety, sometimes denying the reality of the event.
  • Pain and guilt: These follow as the denial and shock wane; the pain of the loss is realised. Guilt may sometimes be present surrounding the wish that there could have been more done or said to the individual.
  • Anger and bargaining: Emotional distress can manifest as rage or bargaining to change the situation.
  • Reflection and loneliness: Here we reflect on the loss and realising that their loved one is not coming back and experiencing loneliness in their absence
  • Reconstruction: This is where we begin to work on putting our lives back together in consideration of the loss and work towards building a new future.
  • Acceptance: We begin to accept the reality of the loss and live life without the attachment

The idea of grief began as a linear model and as we’ve studied grief more, we now see grief as a much more chaotic process, with people jumping between the various stages as our emotional and mental states influenced by many variables, from different life experiences to the ability of the individual to find their own sense of meaning and peace. Anniversaries or special occasions, for example, can reawaken feelings of grief and we experience and recognize the loss yet again.

The Tasks of grief

William Worden (2009) proposed the four tasks of grief, that one who is grieving flexibly undertake over time as they assimilate their grief into their new life:

  • Task one: Accept the reality of the loss: – One must both intellectually and emotionally accept that the lost love one will not return. Loss rituals, such as funerals, will help with addressing this pain
  • Task two: Process the pain of the grief: – Rather than trying to avoid the pain, it is important that one experiences the pain. Supportive people such as friends, relatives or therapists can help us through this pain. The only way out is through.
  • Task three: Adjust to a world without the deceased: – Adjustments will include changes to routines, self-identifications and emotional needs. These all need to be worked through in time. People may need to re-evaluate their future with the deceased no longer around.
  • Task four: Establish an enduring emotional connection with the lost loved one and move forward with life: – The deceased that is mourned will always be a part of that persons life, but now its necessary to re-frame that connection, not by forgetting, but by reconnecting with their life and celebrating the memory of the lost loved one.

Grief is a chaotic and painful process and the details of each case will vary on the individual and the particular loss that is grieved. Some losses we will have no problem accepting and moving forward from and other will require lots of time and patience. Each instance will be unique and so be caring to yourself when going through grief. Some grief in life isn’t always meant to be overcome. Sometimes the best we can do with our grief is accept that it’s there and that at times, it will cause us pain and that that’s okay.

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