Grief And Loss: A Clearer Understanding
Death is inevitable. At some point, if you haven’t already, you will lose someone you hold close to you to death. Elizabeth Kublar-Ross best described the grief process in her book On Death and Dying. In the book, she explains the five stages we go through: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Those who are dying, even those who love them, all go through these stages at some point – although usually not at the same time or in the same order.
You might think you’re in the depression phase one day, then jump to denial, back to anger, and then to bargaining. There is no pattern to the order. It all depends on what suits each individual at any given time. Nobody knows how long each phase will last. If someone, although well-meaning, suggests that you should be feeling a certain way that is not in line with how you are feeling, simply thank them for their concern but realize that, at any given time, you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Are You Experiencing Grief?
When it comes to grief, you will sometimes realize that something just doesn’t feel quite right. You might think, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” or “I hate feeling like this!” When you recognize this feeling, realize it is yourself saying that it’s time to move on and trust that feeling.
Let’s talk about grief from the Choice Theory point of view. Choice Theory says that all behavior has a purpose – including grief. Choice Theory says that everything we do is us attempting to get something we want – some idea that we hold that we think will meet one or more of our needs in some form. Grief is no exception to this.
All Behavior Has A Purpose
As soon as one understands that all behavior has a purpose, and that grief is one’s best attempt to get what you want, then it’s a lot easier to figure out how to move on. What are we trying to get through the grieving process? A lot of people hold the belief that grieving isn’t a choice – when we lose someone we hold dear to us, grieving is automatic. It is natural that we miss that person’s presence, but it is not necessarily inescapable that we grieve. At least, not the way a lot of people think of grieving.
The first thing we’re trying to get back through grieving is the person who died. Grieving is our own attempt to keep that person alive – even if only in our perceived world. We realize they know longer exist in the physical world, but by thinking about them and yearning to have them back, we can sort of keep that person alive in our own perceived world. This false sense of having them alive in our memories feels much better than the total realization that they aren’t actually with us.
Advantages Of Grief?
While grief has its downsides, there are a couple advantages. First, it gives other people a chance to see just how much we cared for the person who passed. Secondly, people help us out with tasks we would normally do ourselves, like yard work and meal preparation. This isn’t to say we should take advantage of others in our time of loss, or that grieving should be used for selfish reasons; these are mere side benefits of going through something that is inevitable for everyone. We must learn to take the good with the bad.
When we can become completely aware of what our grief does and doesn’t help us with, we are faced with a huge challenge: deciding how to live our life without our loved one.
We Have Three Options
We all have three options when it comes to any given situation: leave it, change it, or accept it. When it comes to death, you might wonder how someone can “leave it.” Some potential options include excessive denial of the loss, suicide, drugs, alcohol, mental illness, etc. – anything that allows us to escape the reality of what happened.
If we try to “change it”, we could continue on in grief, using it as an attempt to bring the person back. This could manifest as frequent visits to the loved one’s grave, conversations with the departed, or constantly talking to others about the deceased. The possibilities of “change it” attitude are endless.
While some may very outwardly appear to be grieving, others may not give the appearance of grief. Perhaps this person feels a need to “keep it together” for their family, or maybe they don’t want others to feel like they need to be there for support. Whatever the case may be, nobody knows exactly what that person is going through better than that person.
If, and hopefully when, we choose to accept the loss, we can enjoy a sense of peace and fully come back to living life. A healthy way to do this is by finding some way to keep the loved one’s presence in our life, such as keeping photos on the walls or fireplace mantle or wearing a piece of jewelry that belonged to the dead.
If you’ve seen the movie “Meet the Parents”, you might remember how Robert DiNero’s character kept his mother’s urn on his mantle. Others place a portion of the cremated remains in a necklace, and some may choose to set up scholarships in memory of the passed. There is no wrong way to maintain a person’s presence. It is important, however, to remember that we all grieve in our own ways – even if it may seem distasteful to you.
The Importance Of Acceptance
Once acceptance happens, the bereaved can transition back to their day-to-day life. Obviously, it will not happen overnight, so patience, loving, and understanding, are all needed for those coming out of their grief.
If you are grieving, or if you are involved in the life of someone who is grieving, it is important to remember that everyone’s grieving process is unique. Just know that all behavior is purposeful, and the person who is grieving is getting something out of the process. Only when one become conscious that they have a choice to “leave it, change it, or accept it” can they make a conscious decision about how to move on. Once they know the direction they want to go in, they have to flesh out the details of their plan for themselves.