Grief can feel like something too big to touch. We often choose not to grieve for fear that we will be engulfed by emotions and have no way out. It seems safer to shut down our feelings of sadness when a change occurs in our life, especially if it is something that is sudden, such as the death of a loved one.
What is grief?
My belief is that people think that grief describes someone’s emotional reaction to a sad event. We think of grief as being connected with death usually. It’s a label given to a group of emotions that someone experiences. In general terms, I hear people talking about grief as if you are weak if you show it; that it is not something that it is okay to express openly; that expressing grief upsets others. So it is my own personal reaction to something that has occurred, and by me expressing that reaction, others may be impacted.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross describes the emotional journey of grief in her ‘Grief Curve.’ The curve lists the emotions or reactions that are felt or experienced when a change occurs.
The five stages explained
“The stages, popularly known by the acronym DABDA, include:
- Denial – The first reaction is denial. In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.
- Anger – When the individual recognises that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”; “Why would this happen?”.
- Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise. For instance: “I’d give anything to have him back.” Or: “If only he’d come back to life, I’d promise to be a better person!”
- Depression – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon, so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
- Acceptance – “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it; I may as well prepare for it.”
In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or another tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.” [Source: Wikipedia]
Emotions follow endless thoughts
As this model shows, grief is simply a series of reactions to our thoughts. These thoughts are no different to any other thoughts that we may have on a normal day such as “She shouldn’t yell at me” and yet for some reason, we fear grief.
Perhaps it is the fact that when we are experiencing grief what is occurring is a group of rolling thoughts which means that our emotions seem continual. And yet, if we are present with each moment and our thinking and the reaction to it, then we could sit with each thought and work with that.
The process of meeting each thought as it arises and being okay with that is a great place to sit. It is okay to have the emotional response. There is no need to deny that. Allow yourself to experience the emotion, then question your thinking.