Coping with Death and Grief

Melissa Langley

Death is tragic. Sometimes overlooked in today’s world is the impact of the grief that lingers for days, months and years afterward.  If grief is not addressed in a healthy way, it has the ability to spin and twist our brain, affecting current and future relationships.  It has the power to emotionally freeze us in that moment of loss keeping the loss new, regardless if it occurred yesterday or 50 years ago.  I often hear, “I just need to get over it [the loss].” I usually respond to that statement by saying “we need to feel it so we can learn to live and move with it.”

Each time something is lost, no matter how large or small, there are five stages of grief we’ll naturally move through. (This list is based on the model developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.)

sunset  --  CC Image courtesy of James Jordan on Flickr

Denial – Disbelieving the loss has occurred.

Anger -Related to being unable to prevent the loss.

Bargaining -Offering a “Temporary Truce” (p.17) to undo the loss.

Depression – A necessary and appropriate stage that occurs once the emptiness of the loss is felt.

Acceptance – Determining we are able to survive and live in spite of the loss.

These stages are not necessarily experienced in any order and can be repeated during the grieving process. They were created to help people put words to the feelings they are experiencing in their loss. It helps answer the questions, “how do we grieve?” and “what does it mean to grieve well?”

While these five stages are commonly shared, the deeper levels of grieving which allow for “grieving well” are not as commonly shared and explored.  The two stages I have seen clients wrestle with the most are regret and acceptance of their loss.

With regret, the “if-only’s” seem to get stronger as the brain tries to make sense of this void by placing the blame for the loss on ourselves. Kubler-Ross states , “Regrets are of the heart, the yearning for more and the chance to always do it better.” (Pg. 39) During the regret stage, logic is used to manage pain in a place where feeling is required.  By taking time to sort through feelings with peer or professional support, awareness and tremendous courage, the responsibility for this loss can be overcome and can prevent sadness from turning into despair.
five stages of grief

Acceptance by itself can be the most difficult to achieve. But through the same support as with regret, it’s the stage that gives permission to accept the “new and permanent reality” of our loss. Kubler-Ross defines healing as “remembering, recollecting, and re-organizing” (pg. 25) It can become a place where light dares to shine when it seems as if darkness should constantly dwell almost as a shrine to “what was”; mourning the past no longer makes as much sense as holding on to the sacred memory while moving forward holding onto hope for the future.

Sources:  “On Grief and Grieving; Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss”-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, 2005

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Melissa Langley, MA, LLPC
The fountain of Melissa Langley’s practice is built on the principles of Empathy, Awareness, Encouragement and Empowerment. Personally, she knows what it means to function in a world of adversity and limitations. She has learned to take these negative characteristics and discover light where there was darkness.
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