Grief is a word often used to describe sadness. What I have discovered through my encounter with it is that grief does not fall under the sole category of feeling sad. Grief cannot be used to describe just the feeling of sadness, as it is a complex process that includes many different parts that piece together to form one individual’s experience. It is not a short-winded experience as well, and the process of going through the stages is not chronological. You may experience one stage many times or completely skip over one.
The process of grief consists of 5 stages. The first is denial. Denial is often used as a defense mechanism. Grief is an overwhelming emotion that can happen all at once. Many respond with denial as a way to protect themselves from such an intense emotion. If you have lost a loved one you may pretend they are not really gone or that you are going to see them soon; if you have been diagnosed with a fatal illness you may tell yourself the results are wrong. This sort of behavior is normal. Giving your mind a defense mechanism through denial allows for you to slowly come to terms with what is actually happening in reality.
The next stage of grief is anger. While denial can be used as a defense, anger is used as a disguise. Many use this to mask the pain and emotions they are really going through. Such a life changing event can cause you too not think rationally and use anger as an outlet, whether it be directed at other people or situations. If you have recently lost your job, your anger may be directed at your boss, or if you have lost a loved one your anger may be directed at their lack of concern for their health. The anger you feel in this stage of grief will eventually die down and you will be able to face the real emotions you have been hiding.
Stage 3 of grief is bargaining. Grief often makes individuals feel helpless. The solution to this is looking for ways to change the outcome of whatever event is causing them strife. For religious people this can look like turning to God and making promises if he will help the situation of heal them from their sadness. Doing this can help distract people from their feelings, another defense mechanism. The bargaining stage also allows people to create “what if” and “if only” scenarios. Doing this can lead your mind down a rabbit hole so be careful if you notice yourself doing this; it can have a tremendous effect on your mental health and further affect your already intense feelings.
The next stage of grief is depression. This is often where people have finally come fact to face with their situation. It can cause isolation from other people, overwhelming feelings, heaviness, and confusion. If you have lost a loved one your thoughts might look like, “why live without them?” or if you have been diagnosed with an extreme illness they may look like, “I am going to die soon.” Depression can be a very serious emotion and very dangerous as well. If you feel you need help or do not know what to do, don’t feel afraid to ask for help.
The last stage of grief is acceptance. Although the word acceptance usually has a positive connotation, this in no way signifies happiness when pertaining to grief. Acceptance during grief just means that you have finally faced the situation and have come to terms with the alteration in your life. Acceptance does not mean there is an absence of grief or the loss you’ve suffered, it just means you have come to understand what it means. For instance, if you have lost a loved one you will have come to terms with the physical loss of the person but still remember and cherish all the wonderful times you had with them. If you have been diagnosed with a fatal illness you may now focus on the time you have left and realize it as a time to accomplish things you wanted to happen in your life.
Although grief can be explained through a proven model, you have to realize that no two people will experience the same thing and grief is a time-consuming process. It may take weeks, months, or years to fully get through all the stages. If you are having trouble processing grief on your own and you feel yourself falling, please reach out to a mental health professional. It is completely normal for grief to overtake a person and reaching out to get that extra help can go a long way. Just remember, you will be able to get through this, although the sadness of the loss or situation may never go away, your feelings of sadness will lessen, and you will be able to successfully move on with your life. You will be able to reflect on the situation and draw important lessons from it, as well as remember the cherished memories instead of the bad. To anyone who is working their way through grief: I believe in you, you are strong enough to get through this, and life is short so make every moment intentional.