Grief comes and goes in phases

Posted 9/19/19

This 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 …

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Grief comes and goes in phases

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This 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:

Many people talk about the five stages of grief. It seems to me that understanding grief might be a good thing, but I don't see how healing from loss can be so straightforward and clear. What are your thoughts on this?

Thanks, Roberta

Dear Roberta:

Your point is well-taken and you are absolutely right in that the stages of grief were never meant to be an easy step-by-step process to healing from loss.

Most people give credit to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her research on death and dying as well as grief from loss. In her research, Kübler-Ross identified certain stages that appear to happen after a loss in order to redefine one's self into the present time and place. She openly admitted she wished that she had used a different word than "stages," as people took that to mean that it was a defined and sequential process to heal from loss. In hindsight, she could have used a word like "phases" in which a person would move back and forth between grief phases rather than a concrete process.

I compare the grief process to an omelet in which you can bite into any and every aspect of grief at any time. Included in your grief process are all of your historical losses as well. In other words, your present loss will trigger an old loss and the two may become intertwined.

Grief is the process of transforming yourself into your present situation, as the loss has changed the way you and others define you. Grief is the redefining process that helps you realign your intellectual and emotional world and helps bring balance back into your life. After a loss, you will be captured by the past and overwhelmed by the future; grief bridges these two as you move more and more into your present situation.

Kübler-Ross wrote about many phases and aspects pertaining to the grief process. Over time, her research was condensed into the "five stages of grief." These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These phases are not meant to be linear or limited to only one at a time. You can be feeling one aspect of the grief process or all of them at once.

Over time the frequency, intensity and duration also start to change. Right after a loss you may notice more time is in the phases of denial, anger and bargaining. As time and healing happen, the frequency, intensity and duration lands more and more in the area of acceptance, with a stronger foundation of who you are and how you define yourself presently.

As I end this article, I must say that acceptance does not mean that everything is OK, better and happy. Acceptance is the acknowledgement of a fact and as time moves forward, there are deeper and deeper levels of acceptance, allowing you to accept your present situation and empower yourself to build and manifest your future rather than be confined by your past. The hope is that through conscious grief, you can heal and manifest a healthy and fulfilling life.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

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.

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