It’s something you hear anytime someone experiences the death of a loved one, or another major loss: a reference to the five stages of grief. You know what they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. According to common knowledge, you’re supposed to move through them one after another, and once that’s done you won’t be upset any longer.
That’s not really what grief is, or how it works. Grief isn’t a phase you have to get past; it’s a permanent part of your life after a loss, and your experience of it is unique. No one else can feel your loss the way you do.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the psychologist who developed the famous five stages of grief, spent the rest of her life trying to explain that the stages are just guidelines, ideas of what a person might be feeling while grieving a loss. They’re not milestones that every person has to pass.
One person might skip right past one of these stages of grief and never experience it, while another person who is grieving may feel a certain way for months or even years after a loss.
The five stages of grief are so well-known these days that you hear about them in movies and TV shows, but they’re not the only way of looking at grief. Our grief support specialists instead use the four main tasks of grief, as described by researcher William Worden.
- Accepting the reality of the loss
For many people, one of the first reactions to losing a loved one is disbelief. It can take time, sometimes a very long time, to fully accept that the person is truly gone. Then a survivor can slowly start finding new ways of being in the world while remaining connected to the loved one. It may not happen right away — it may be weeks, even years, later when a memory of a loved one comes to mind, along with recognition and understanding that they are gone.
- Processing the pain of the grief
Grief can be felt in dozens of different ways. An important part of the grieving process is to express the difficult emotions of grief. Grief expert Alan Wolfelt calls grief the internal processing of the emotions surrounding the loss, while mourning is putting grief into outward action. That action can take many forms, like talking, writing, rituals, movement, or creating art. Processing grief and taking action allows the intensity of the grief to soften and become less overwhelming.
Exploring feelings safely is the goal of Grief Connection, our adult support groups led by trained grief counselors. We also offer Journeys, a grief program specifically for children, teens, and parents and guardians.
- Adjusting to a world without the deceased
This may call for changes both large and small, and in many different areas. Some people find the loss of a loved one is a time to reflect on their spiritual beliefs. Others might find new resilience in themselves, now that they can’t turn to that other person for support. People who survive the loss of a loved one might have to learn new skills, too: maybe they’ll have to cook more often, or start paying the bills themselves.
- Moving forward in life without forgetting the loved one
Our grief counselors say grieving is a process; people move through it gradually, but eventually the intensity of the grief softens and they’re able to move forward with their lives. They are lives that are different than they were before their loss, but they are lives that continue in a healthy and meaningful way.
Worden’s tasks aren’t a set of stages people are expected to move through, one after another. They’re things that grievers, their loved ones, and grief counselors can use as guiding lights to help them know what to do after a loss.
There’s no “correct” way to grieve — not moving through Kubler-Ross’ five stages, not accomplishing Worden’s tasks. Those things can help someone who is grieving, but the only thing that truly matters is what helps a person move through their own grief journey.
If you or someone you care about is facing a grief journey, and need someone to help, Centrica Care Navigators grief support staff are here. Call us at 269.345.0273.