Throughout life we experience many losses which cause mental suffering. Some involve death while others involve significant losses such as relationships, jobs or even material things. Many believe that the most difficult to face is the loss of a dream. When a child dies, for example, the parents lose their dream of seeing that child graduate, marry and grow.
Because of the drastic changes that have accompanied the pandemic I thought it would be important to review the stages of grief and loss. These were outlined in a book written by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross who watched people and their families experience death but can be applied to other situations.
Following is an outline of the stages of grief that Dr Kubler Ross wrote about:
- Shock and denial – Sometimes we shut down in order to survive. The loss might not have hit you and you are distanced from the reality. This is similar to when people are physically injured and yet walk several miles for help despite this. Their body shuts down and this allows them to go on. I remember when my mother died, and everyone called me a “brick”. I planned the funeral, cleaned the house, went through the auction, and looked like I was handling things well. Then, three months later, when all the mourners were gone, the denial faded, and I was a mess!
- Anger – This feeling might be stronger than one usually experiences and can therefore be quite scary. It might appear impulsively and with a white-hot degree of intensity. Usually, anger is fueled by fear, but it might not be obvious as the rage erupts.
- Bargaining – This stage might involve trying to cut a deal to restore the past. For example, “God, please bring mom back and I will attend church every week.” It might involve asking “what it?” questions and trying to figure out what could have been done to prevent the situation. Lack of control can cause individuals to try harder to obtain control.
- Depression – Emptiness and sadness can feel so defeating and unending. Sometimes people just want to climb into a hole and not come out no matter what they hear or who is reaching out to help
- Acceptance – This does not mean that you think it the situation all right. It just means that you accept the truth, know you can’t change it and know that the situation has caused permanent alteration for the future. Things will never be exactly the same.
- Rebuilding – Living life despite the loss will take time and adjustment. Going through each of the stages can be difficult but healing can come in time with emotional work.
Over the years, I have had several clients who came to me and in a whispered breath said, “I think I am going crazy.” When they told me about their loss and the ways that they had been bouncing from one stage to another, often with an intensity that they had never previously felt, I explained to them that this is “normal”. Within minutes of sharing the stages I would usually witness their relief.
And now, we face a Thanksgiving weekend with people who have been focusing on losses and being stuck in various stages of grief. How do we handle this?
Let’s begin by thinking about all the blessings in our lives. We can be thankful for the examples set for us by that those who have passed. We can treasure the good memories. We can give thanks for the lessons learned and maturity realized.
And we can look around our homes and communities with new eyes – eyes that see the beautiful things that we still have.
Finally, we can look to the future with hope – knowing that our choices will make life for ourselves and others just a little bit better.
Have a wonderful, thoughtful Thanksgiving!