Dealing with clients in grief has brought me a far greater understanding of the many different experiences that people go through. There are many books on the topic, yet there is nothing as meaningful as being able to be present for someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.
Grief and grieving
Grieving is a process that can last anywhere from days to weeks, months or years. In certain situations it isn’t ever completed and the heart just learns to be without the loved one’s presence in the material world. I personally believe that when experiencing grief we prepare our soul for our own personal relationship with the impermanence of existence.
Five stages of loss
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross there are five stages of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I have experienced that understanding the nature of grief and these stages helps clients to normalize their experience.
This stage is not the denial of the actual death, even though someone might be saying: “I can’t believe she’s dead.” Denial might look like disbelief. It helps you to unconsciously deal with the feelings; it helps us to survive the loss. As denial fades, it is slowly replaced with the reality of the loss.
Anger surfaces once you are feeling safe enough to know you will probably survive whatever comes. You might be angry at your loved one leaving you or angry at yourself for not having been able to prevent the loss. Anger does not have to be logical or valid.
In this stage we often become lost in ‘if only…’ or ‘what if…’ statements. Guilt is a common companion of bargaining. You might even bargain with the pain, pleading to do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. This is a way to remain in the past by which you try to negotiate your way of the hurt.
The loss of a loved one is a very sad and depressing situation. This is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a loved one dies or leaves would be unusual. Depression in this case is a mechanism of the body to protect us so that we can adapt to the situation.
Acceptance is not about being all right or okay with what has happened, it is accepting the reality. You most probably will never like this reality or make it ok, but eventually we accept it. Acceptance is a process that we experience, not a final stage with an end point.