MANAGING GRIEF AND LOSS
Grief is our natural healing response to the loss of someone or something that we had loved or when we are faced with extreme change. It is a complex process, not an event, proceeding in stages from initial shock and chaos through adaption on to acceptance and transformation. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s model of adaption to this experience has been one that has guided both therapists and those experiencing the deep pain of grief, a structure by which to both understand and come to a resolution to their pain. Her model has been used beyond grief from death and dying to such human crises of loss as, for example, children’s grieving in divorce, grieving a lost amorous relationship or grieving associated with substance abuse.
Grief has its common and its unique sides. Although it is a universal experience, no two people grieve the same. Responses to grief are both individual and culturally specific, with different emotional responses, not only through time, but from person to person. Each person’s characteristic response to grief and loss is an individual matter that includes psychological, emotional, social, cultural, biological, spiritual, and familial variables. Even though there are common feelings and experiences, the depth and duration of each phase is different for everyone. Understanding the phases of grief—shock, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, as well as using practical strategies for dealing with grief, can help you cope and have hope knowing that others have also gone through similar pain and survived. At the same time, respecting your unique grieving experience will provide comfort and reassurance when you feel all alone.
What has been found to be true in all cases is that, when the natural process of resolution is disturbed or sidetracked in some manner, a person can experience traumatic stress and complicated bereavement. The individual becomes stuck in an unending loop of negative emotions, like despair, anger, helplessness, shame or sadness that cannot be resolved, requiring therapy for traumatic stress and complicated bereavement. We cannot fully control the feelings that arise within us during a shocking experience of loss. Denying or minimizing the emotional pain of loss complicates the natural process of bereavement and only postpones the day you must face feelings. Repressed feelings will stay buried until they are triggered by another loss, only to intensify the pain and difficulty of the new life crisis. The fastest way to get to the other side of the pain is to lean into it. The experience of grief and loss can be a life-changing event. The experience can throw an individual into crisis, sometimes leading to a new model for seeing oneself in the world.
Virginia Satir’s model of change is an excellent way to conceptualize this paradigm shift that can occur as a consequence of an extreme change in the assumptions we depend on that make our life seemingly manageable on a daily basis.