This weekly column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.
Dear Dr. Ted:
This last year has been a wild ride between politics, economics and, of course, the pandemic. As we seem to be sneaking out of these issues and moving into new realms of life, how does all of this fit into the grief process?
Thank you for recapping the year and for you question. It has been a difficult year with such milestone losses and changes with everyday life. I do have hope that you are correct that we are inching out of these traumatic times and moving into the grief process from loss.
During trauma, the idea is to survive rather than process and heal. As trauma subsides, the grief process has a chance to help bridge historical experiences and present-day situations. Grief allows us the chance to glean wisdom from experience to help with present day events, decisions and behaviors.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was one of the early researchers who established a cognitive roadmap of the natural and normal healing process from a loss called grief. The grief process was broken down into different phases a person moves in and out of, with more and more frequency, intensity and duration, being less in the early phases and more in the latter, where the person is not caught in the past and is more in the present, implementing the historical experiences to help with present decision-making to help build a better future.
The commonly known phases are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial is the time in which the psyche is working to align cognitive data and emotional equilibrium. Although denial can be confusing as it works to bring the reality of the past into the present.
Anger is the protest of the loss and possibly an internal turmoil of resistance to accept what has happened, not unlike a temper tantrum, not wanting to change due to the loss.
Bargaining is the debate to try to see how the loss could be changed. I call this the should-of-could-of-would of time period where the brain tries to think how the loss could not have happened.
Depression is the place in which denial and bargaining are depleted and there is an energetic drop of sadness, melancholy, or somewhat of a surrender that the loss is reality, which moves you into acceptance.
Acceptance is the acknowledgement of a fact. It does not mean that the loss has to make sense, or you are okay with the loss, and everything is "all good" now. It only means more and more levels of the fact of the loss is real and part of your life.
These are the five phases of grief that help give us a cognitive road map of a process that is not linear, but rather fluid, in which you can move back and forth as healing slowly happens.
I like to think about two more phases which are mindfulness and relocation. As you heal there is more room for higher levels of acceptance which allows for personal growth, empathy, forgiveness, and spirituality. Relocation is having the ability to glean the wisdom from a loss and implementing that wisdom into your present decision process and behaviors, due to what you have learned from your historical experiences, including your losses.
Grief does not make something okay, but it allows you to be wiser in your present actions. Grief bridges being engulfed in your past, overwhelmed by the future and emotionally drowning in the present. It builds a foundation for you to be more present, heal and use your wisdom to build a better life.
Until next week, I wish you health, healing and continuous growth.
Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, Founder of Golden Willow Retreat, GWR@newmex.com.