By Stephenie Craig, LCSW
What comes to mind when you hear the word grief? 2020 is inviting you to see grief as the emotional experience surrounding the loss of anything or anyone important to you. Maybe you’ve lost a person, a pet, a relationship, or a home. We are experiencing loss of jobs, physical touch, in-person contact with family, the ability to visit sick loved ones, gathering in large groups to celebrate or to mourn. We are also experiencing intangible losses like feelings of certainty, control, and the way life was before COVID.
As the year’s end approaches, we are invited to acknowledge our loss/pain and remember that we aren’t alone in our grief. While we all wish 2021 would bring “normal” back, we struggle to make sense of our current and ongoing challenges in a world where COVID exists.
So, what are we supposed to do with all the uncertainty, sadness, anger, and depression?
Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler, authors/social scientists, provide helpful guidance in messy, chaotic grief. The 6 Stages of Grief are not tidy categories, neat timelines or defined behavioral markers. Grief is complicated, unique to each person, and not linear. Rather, the Stages of Grief are ideas providing structure for understanding complex emotions. Stages are experienced in any order, repetitively, and you don’t have to experience every stage. There is no typical or normal grief. You can’t do it wrong. What’s important is acknowledging your loss and allowing yourself to feel.
6 Stages of Grief to help you navigate loss:
- Denial. Denial is the numbness/shock that occurs shortly after a loss. Your brain can’t completely process and reorient itself to loss, so denial helps you ease into the reality. Denial feels like your brain is tricking you into postponing acknowledgement of loss and the full onset of grief emotion is sometimes muted temporarily.
- Anger. Anger can be powerful and overwhelming. Let yourself feel and express anger. Losing a person, a job, or sense of normalcy are hurtful experiences. Your body uses anger to find structure and strength in the emptiness of loss. It’s ok to feel anger toward yourself, loved ones, strangers, God. Let yourself feel rather than pushing anger down.
- Bargaining. “If only I had left the house 15 minutes later…” “I will do anything to get things back to the way it was before so I don’t have to feel this pain.” Bargaining is your brain seeking control in the midst of out of control circumstances. It’s okay to entertain these thoughts and wonderings as a path toward accepting death, pain, and loss happening in this world outside of your control.
- Depression. Loss is terribly sad. It leaves you feeling empty, exhausted, withdrawn, lacking motivation, lacking a sense of purpose, and lacking mental clarity. Situational depression is common in grief and different from clinical depression that is prolonged and not related to circumstance. Don’t rush yourself or “quick fix” grief-related depression. It’s normal and over time, it decreases.
- Acceptance. You don’t “get over” loss. Instead, you move through it in your own time accepting the loss will always be part of you and your story. Acceptance happens as you accept the new reality of daily life in the absence of what you lost. You will still hurt at times even as you begin to experience joy again in your life in small doses.
- Making Meaning. Loss cannot take from you all of the moments, lessons, and joys you carry from time before the loss. You make meaning by remembering the value and beauty in what existed before. You make meaning by bringing what was before into the present and creating meaningful moments of memory and carrying legacy forward. You make meaning by allowing loss to motivate positive action to help others through the loss you’ve experienced.
These stages will not help you skip pain, however, they can provide reassurance along the journey. Allow yourself whatever time you need to grieve. Let emotions rise to the surface even when they threaten to overwhelm you. Releasing feelings is the slow path to lessening emotional intensity and embracing the current reality of your life. As you navigate grief and other difficulties, remember that Journey Bravely has coaching sessions available to help you. Connect with us at journeybravely.com.
Stephenie Craig is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker/Therapist of 18 years, specializing in emotional/relational health. She loves hearing others’ stories and helping people find new perspective that produces peace, healing, and connection through counseling. Stephenie provides treatment for adults, teenagers, couples, and families with anxiety symptoms, parenting struggles, teen issues, depression, grief, divorce, and other life transitions. Connect with Stephenie at Journeybravely.com.