There's No Easy Way to Navigate Your Way Through the Agony of Grief

Caroline de Braganza

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During the Covid-19 pandemic, many families have had to endure grief and loss of a loved one or friend.

That they could not be at their bedside to say goodbye worsened the pain of loss.

Brighter days lie ahead now that 47% of US citizens have received at least one dose of the vaccination. Those people fully vaccinated can get together again, without fear of being infected with the coronavirus.

The excitement of seeing family and friends, hugging and laughing together, dining out, watching live sport or attending a concert, is a welcome distraction for those who have been dwelling in grief.

Hope for the future is a healing salve.

Finding a way to grieve

Grief is a process that affects each person differently.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, developed a five-stage model for dealing with grief and loss, aimed at people who are terminally ill, in her book “On Death and Dying” in 1969.

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These stages help to build a framework for the myriad emotions that confront you during the passage of grieving. They are a useful guide to navigate your way through grief. They provide an anchor to keep you in safe harbour instead of being tossed on stormy oceans of overwhelming emotions.

These stages don’t happen in any pre-determined order. The lines are often blurred and you may swing from one back to another, or skip some altogether. There’s no specific time period either - someone may experience the stages in a matter of weeks, whereas may take months or even years to move through to acceptance.

Because they helped me when I lost my brother, I want to share them with you.

#1 Denial

You tell yourself “This can’t be happening” because it takes time to adjust to the new reality of your loss. You remember the last conversation, or the last time you saw the person, and wonder how you can carry on without them.

Denial is a psychological defense: by pretending it hasn’t happened, you are better able to cope with the pain in small, manageable steps.

#2 Anger

When reality hits, it’s natural to be angry. You don’t want to admit you’re scared, so anger is an easier way to release and express the extreme emotional discomfort you are going through.

The pandemic has been an especially painful time. The shared experiences of many who have lost loved ones have helped people reach out to each other for comfort, support and reassurance—to admit they are scared, once their anger has dissolved.

#3 Bargaining

When a loved one or friend is in hospital or ICU with Covid-19, you don’t know if they are “terminally ill”, the basis on which Kubler-Ross developed her five-stage model. This makes the bargaining stage more intense as there’s a chance they will recover.

You may feel helpless, especially as you can’t visit them, and the anguish can be overwhelming. To decrease the pain and help regain a sense of control of an event you cannot influence, you bargain for a positive outcome.

It’s normal for you to look at your own faults and regrets about things you may have said or done in your past interactions with your loved one. You make promises you’ll be a better person if they pull through. You want to have the chance to make amends before it’s too late.

This is where the comfort of prayer has a profound impact on coping with the emotional rollercoaster of not knowing the outcome.

“Dear God, I’ll turn my life around if he/she recovers.”

Miracles happen:

#4 Depression

If your loved one doesn’t recover, reality faces you and bargaining is no longer an option.

You may prefer to be alone with your sadness and retreat inward, reluctant to share what you’re going through.

Although normal, if your depressed emotional state lingers for three weeks or more, and you still don’t want to connect with others, reach out for support from a mental health professional.

(There are many online therapy programs you can access, such as Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Or you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.)

#5 Acceptance

There will come a time when you will accept what has happened - no more denial, anger or bargaining. Though the pain of loss will still be with you, acceptance means you’re not pushing for a different outcome. You’ve made peace with your loss.

The ebb and flow of emotions

We can compare grief to a series of waves in the first weeks of loss, though as the years pass, they are gentler and less frequent.

There’s no timeline for grief. It never fully disappears and events such as birthdays and anniversaries can trigger that deep sadness again.

Navigating your way through grief is a personal undertaking. Do whatever works for you, in your own time, however long it takes.

“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world--the company of those who have known suffering.” – Helen Keller

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