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There Are No Stages For Coping With Grief

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There Are No Stages For Coping With Grief

What is grief? Grief, also called sorrow, is the process of loss; mourning and bereavement relate to the process of coping with loss. These losses may include the death of a loved one or a beloved pet, a dissolution of a marriage or loss of a friendship, the loss of childhood innocence through abuse, the ending of a role such as retirement or becoming an empty-nester, becoming disabled or homeless, suffering from a medical condition or a psychiatric illness, or any other of the many losses we face throughout our lifetimes.

There is a lot of information regarding grief that is inaccurate, especially the five stages of grief developed by Kubler-Ross. While this was an interesting study in 1969, later research has found that there are no stages to grief. So if there are no stages, how do we experience grief and how do we cope?

Life is about love and loss and how we cope with our grief is as important as the loss itself. Grief can demonstrate itself in many ways – sadness, tearfulness, obsessing about the loss, poor appetite or trouble sleeping, sobbing, anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, feelings of relief, hopelessness and helplessness, gratitude, acceptance, and all other feelings along the spectrum. There is no right or wrong way to cope with grief as long as it is a healthy grief process, i.e., not resorting to isolation, drinking or drugging or other self-harm behaviors, suicide attempts, or other dysfunctional coping styles.

The Coping Skill That’s Needed

In the beginning, we may just focus on survival by putting one foot in front of the other to get through the day. Time often feels at a standstill as we weave through the grief process; we may wonder if the pain will ever end. And sadly, those of us in Western Society tend to struggle to give grief its due – we try to deny the pain and the loss instead of embracing what we had as well as what we lost. If we allow ourselves, we can work through grief and come out on the other side and begin to thrive again. This does not mean went won’t feel the sorrow, but that we can allow it to manifest itself in positive ways such as by learning to be more compassionate as we understand what others are also going through. It teaches us to embrace not only the loss, but to allow healing to occur as we know that sorrow is as much a part of life as is joy. We may move through the grief on our own, with others, with a grief counselor or grief support group, but we can and do go on.

One Day At A Time

So we begin to get back into life by taking one-day-at-a time. We utilize all of our coping skills, for besides doing the healthy grieving, we also get back into our routines, doing enjoyable activities, using distraction skills as needed (such as not focusing on grief at work, allowing ourselves a set time to grieve at home, and by meeting and talking with others not only about grief, but about life). We do our fun activities and while we may initially struggle with feeling joy, we continue to do these things as our pleasure will return. It’s important to tell ourselves that we will get through the loss and that we will enjoy life again. So take the time to experience life as an physical/emotional/intellectual/relational/spiritual event – go for a walk, meditate, play tennis, participate in religious/spiritual activities, hang out with others, treat yourself to a special meal, reminisce, read a mystery novel, take a class, watch a movie – for there is more to life than just the emotional aspect of grief.

Take It As I Comes 

Most of all, there is no set pattern to grief. It may come as a calmness or as a tsunami; it may come with sobbing or with a sense of peace; it may make you feel you are going crazy or it may be a stillness within. However it comes, let it be, for grief is a process – it is not a one-time event. And if we are able to meet all our losses by grieving at the time, then this helps us from struggling with ongoing losses, for if we do not address them each and every time, then they can build up and cause more issues such as depression, stress-related disorders or a complicated grief reaction. Grief is a natural process – depression is not.

Reach Out Recovery Exclusive by Carol Anderson 

 If you need help coping with grief, click on the image below for a free resource to see who the recovery professionals are in your area. 

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Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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