The road of grief
Updated: May 28
The recent pandemic has touched all of us; but for some, the impact of Covid-19 will be longer-lasting.
Grief is not a place we stay momentarily; it is a long road which we are forced down and must follow. This road looks very different depending on the person travelling it and the relationship with the person or people they’ve lost. It is the most difficult journey that human beings must take through life; it is knowing that you can’t turn back, you must keep walking even though the pain of grief is great and seemingly unrelenting.
It is said that grief does not end, but it changes. The ‘Grief is like a ball in a box’ analogy suggests that when the bereavement first takes place, the ball is regularly hitting the pain button because the ball is so large in the box. As time goes on, both the ball and the pain button remain, but the ball gets smaller; when the ball hits the pain button it still hurts just as much as it did the first time, but it is less frequent. This analogy tells us that grief is not something that goes away, but something we learn to live with that gets less intense as time passes. You can read more about the ‘Grief is like a ball in a box’ analogy here: https://psychcentral.com/blog/coping-with-grief-the-ball-the-box/
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross laid out five stages of grief in her book ‘On Death and Dying’. While not everyone will experience every stage, it is widely accepted that the bereaved will experience one or more of these stages while grieving.
When you think about bereavement, you may only associate it with the end of someone’s life. In actuality, as humans we grieve many other moments in life including; the end of a relationship (a marriage for example), the loss of a pet, job loss, the end of a friendship or even the death of someone who we’ve never met but we perhaps held as a role model or icon. Grief is something that will impact every one of us in some shape or form in our lifetime.
We’re going to walk through the five stages of grief which take different amounts of time to pass and may not be experienced in the order listed below. Some may be skipped, and others may be a place where one gets stuck and unable to move on.
Denial is a way of trying to stabilise our emotions. ‘This can’t be happening’. Denial acts as a buffer against our shock, blocking out the reality of what’s happening in order to protect ourselves. The situation will not go away and it will be harder to avoid as time goes on, making this a relatively temporary stage of grief for a lot of people.
There are many reasons people get angry after a bereavement. It can be aimed at anyone or no one at all but it is common for people to be angry about loss. Anger is the brain objecting to the situation; we were not ready, and it was not fair.
Bargaining can be with a higher being (God) or with health professionals or people around us. Here are some examples:
Praying to God that you’d take their place instead.
What if medical help had come sooner or been more effective?
What if I had done something differently?
These are all ways that people experiencing grief will try and regain some control over the situation, by asking ‘what if’ questions or reaching out to a higher being. This is us at our most vulnerable; slowly accepting that not everything is within our control.
4. Depression. Depression around death and loss is normal. It can be important at this stage to lean on friends and family or speak to a counsellor. At this stage, we’re facing the reality of the situation and coming to terms with what the road ahead of us looks like. Bargaining is no longer an option and we can be sad about anything from; funeral costs, practical burial worries, words said, or actions taken that we now regret, the reality of not seeing that person again, or many other aspects of life at that moment. It is in this time period that we’ll often isolate ourselves and neglect our social engagements, preferring to be alone.
This is arguably the most difficult part of the grieving journey. It is easier to let sadness overwhelm you than it is to find the strength to move through it, but you must move through it eventually. Counsellors are trained to help you get through this stage at a pace that is right for you.
5. Acceptance. Acceptance is not no longer feeling the pain but accepting the reality of the situation and knowing you can’t change what has happened. You’ll likely still be sad, but your moments of denial, bargaining and anger will be much less. This is not a period of happiness, but it is calmer than the previous stages. It is a reluctant acceptance of what has happened.
This stage is not a place that everyone gets to because it can feel defeatist to try and learn how to live in this ‘new normal’ and no longer be challenging your loss. To live healthily, it is important you reach this stage. Counselling is one way to help you (only when you feel ready) to begin accepting both the past, present and future.
The most important thing to take away from our look at grief, is that it means something different to everyone. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is no timeline that fits every situation. You will cope with loss in the healthiest way by accepting each wave of emotion as and when it comes, fighting the stages of grief will prolong the natural process and can be very damaging to you and those around you. We will live again, and fully, but not until we have let grief transform us as we walk that long road.