Grief is something that we all experience at some point in our lives. Usually, when we think about grief, we think about death and the loss associated with that. However, it is important to remember that we can grieve in other situations, too. We can grieve break-ups from a significant relationship (romantic or not), we can grieve changes in relationships (even if it’s a healthy change), we can grieve jobs that we left, and so on.
I have had clients talk about experiencing grief about a person who is still alive, but in declining health (especially with something like an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis). My clients ask me if this is normal – the person they care about is still alive, so why are they experiencing grief?! My answer is always the same: yes, this is normal! The relationship that you had with this person has changed, and there might seem like there is a dark cloud overshadowing your relationships. It becomes kind of a prolonged grief process in that way – you know the end is looming on the horizon, but the person is still physically here.
The 5 Stages Of Grief
The first framework we are going to talk about is the 5 stages of Grief, developed by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. The 5 stages are as follows:
1. Denial: Life doesn’t make sense, and is overwhelming. We are trying to just get by and survive day by day, and may feel numb. This numbness offers some protection to us – we might not be ready to face the weight of our emotions and our loss.
2. Anger: Recognize that there may be other emotions underlying the anger, but anger is oftentimes the one that comes out and shows its face. This anger can be directed at many forms: ourselves, family, friends, our higher powers (if applicable), the person we lost, etc.
3. Bargaining: We want to find a way to return to how things were before the loss, so we tend to fall into “what ifs” and “if only” statements. This bargaining is paired with guilt in a lot of scenarios.
4. Depression: In this stage, we feel the grief on a deeper level. We might be in a fog, withdrawn from life. A key reminder is important here: this depression is normal! Experiencing a loss is sad, and we are allowed to have this reaction as we adjust to a changed life.
5. Acceptance: This doesn’t mean that you are okay with what has happened. However, it does mean that we have acknowledged that this reality is our new, permanent, reality. We might not like it, but it is our new normal and so we learn to live with it.
Note: When talking about the 5 stages of grief, it is important to recognize that these stages are not linear – they can happen in any order. Some people cycle back and forth between various stages, skip stages, or experience other emotions, not in these stages. For some, each stage lasts a week; for others, the stages are longer, or shorter. All of these are normal!
The 4 Tasks of Mourning
The second theory is the 4 tasks of mourning, developed by psychologist J. W. Worden. These tasks are:
1. Accept the Reality of the Loss: It is common for us to deny or minimize our loss. It’s a protective instinct, because loss is hard to face! For this task, we have to emotionally and intellectually accept the loss.
2. Process the Pain of Grief: Grief brings up a multitude of feelings. Confront your emotions, name them, and let yourself feel them! This may include sadness, guilt, anger, and other emotions. Remember: all emotions are temporary, even if they feel like they will last forever. Let them exist in your life, and let them pass!
3. Adjust to the World Without Your Loved One: This can be internal and external changes. If you lost a spouse, you might have to adjust to a new identity as a widow/widower (or just to being single again). There might be tasks that your loved one handled, that you now have to take on (i.e., creating a monthly budget that your partner did).
4. Find a Way to Remember the Deceased, While Moving Forward: This one sounds like a big ask – I know. Moving on with your life doesn’t mean that you are forgetting your loved one. Find a balance between cherishing the memories you have with them, and creating new ones.
There are some similarities between these two theories, in the acknowledgment of the variety of feelings and experiences we can have. It is important to remember, that grief looks different on each of us, and may be on different timelines. Because no two losses are exactly the same, no two grief processes are exactly the same.
If you feel like you are ‘stuck’ or want additional help – reach out to your support network, find a therapist, or look into a support group in your area! You do not have to go through this process alone! You can also contact our care coordinator for help requesting a consultation or appointment with a therapist that fits your needs: click here to contact us.
Kaci Crook is a Mental Health Student Intern at Cypress Wellness Center. She works with individuals and couples. In her work, she incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and Mindfulness.