By definition grief is “deep sorrow”. Most commonly people associate grief with the death of a loved one. However there are many other moments in life where you may find yourself grieving. Grief can come after the end of a marriage/relationship, the loss of a pet, a debilitating injury, an early miscarried pregnancy, the inability to have children, the discovery a child has special needs, or sometimes people grieve for a parent who was never present in their life- maybe a parent they never met. Grief can take on many forms and one type is not more difficult than another to experience. All are tough.
As humans we like to make meaning of the world around us. We like to intellectualize, and put the confusing world we live in into concrete terms. After the death of a loved one you may hear people say, “He died so quickly, it is so much easier knowing he didn’t suffer”. You may also hear, “He lived a long life, and it is so much easier knowing we all had enough time to say goodbye”. Whether your loved one was taken unexpectedly or they had a terminal illness and you had time to prepare- the deep sorrow felt after the loss is no easier in either scenario. As humans, we try to find a way to have grief make sense. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned. Maybe this happened for a reason. Sometimes bad things just happen and we are left to pick up the pieces.
What are the stages of grief?
If you are experiencing grief you may recognize yourself in one of these stages. The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.
Denial - In this stage, the world becomes overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible.
Anger - Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. Underneath anger is pain.
Bargaining - Bargaining is wanting life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored, our marriage saved. We want to go back in time: find the tumor sooner, recognize the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening…if only, if only, if only. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss.
Depression - In this stage empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of. Your deep sorrow may be a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response.
Acceptance - This stage is about accepting the reality that we have experienced deep sorrow and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. Acceptance does not mean you will never shed another tear, but it does mean that life begins to move again.
Remember, how someone experiences grief is as unique as they are. Keep in mind, these stages are not linear. There is not a defined order. You may experience them all, or only a few. What you may consider deep sorrow may be different for you than it is for another. It is important to know that all feelings are ok and need to be expressed.
How can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) help with grief?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to help you understand your thoughts and feelings experienced through the grieving process. This type of therapy is designed to encourage the exploration of feelings about the occurrence in order to deal with anger and anxiety resulting from the event. Many times therapists provide clients techniques for relaxation and coping to help manage feelings of anxiety and depression. You may learn how to think about your loss in a new way and reach a point where you are able to accept it and move forward in your life.