The 7 Stages of Bereavement
Exploring the loss of a loved one and how to cope.
Family 21st Dec, 2020
The grieving process is like climbing a mountain. Sometimes you can go straight to the top. Other times you have to circle around, or trek back and forth across a cliff face before you can get to the top. Losing a loved one is never easy, even when it is expected, or perhaps wished for following a long illness.
Although there are 7 possible stages of bereavement, not everyone goes through them all nor in any particular order. Equally, grief is expressed with differing emotional or physical reactions or social interactions. There is no rulebook. Remember that regardless of where you are in the grieving process to always be kind to yourself.
You may feel numb and distant from others. Physical symptoms can include ringing in the ears. This is normal as you process the news a loved one has died, even after a prolonged illness. You may find yourself dazed and struggling to make conversation. Give yourself time, it could help to focus on your breathing. One method is to focus on a square – you can always find one, a window, box, table, even a rectangle like a door. As you breathe, follow the square with your eyes, one side for each breath. Then breathe in for 4 seconds, hold that for 4 beats, breathe out for 4 seconds and hold for 4 beats. Repeat as necessary.
During this stage you could be struggling to believe what has happened, particularly if the death was unexpected. It is possible that you will shut down any train of thought that leads to your loved one. Socially, you may argue with people who ask how you are. You could try saying what has happened out loud, even just to yourself in the mirror.
All sorts of things might get damaged during this stage. You may want to tear the world apart while you rage and ask “why them”? It is possible you will disagree with and want to physically fight people during this period. That is why it‘s incredibly helpful to know and understand the stages of grief. This could help you avoid the misguided anger as you realise the source is the grief and not any individual.
Religious folk will often bargain with their God, or others with fate, to get more time with their loved ones. You may lose hours in creating incredibly detailed daydreams of the lengths you would go to for one more day/hour/minute. That is completely normal and could even bring back good memories. If this practise however occurs while working, perhaps you should reevaluate your bereavement period and have a conversation with your boss.
This is the stage where you need to remember to be kind to yourself. We are all human and flawed and have regrets. This stage is where you may dwell on both small and large arguments/fights/periods of separation, particularly if you are related to the person or treated them as family. You may also feel guilty that you are relieved the person has died. All relationships, especially familial, can be multi-layered and complex. You could find yourself repeating past arguments and winning, regretting you won, or wishing you or your loved one had done things differently. That is ok. In time you can forgive both yourself and them as you see holding onto the guilt or even anger, only holds you back.
During this stage, you may feel anxious, agitated, or exhausted in addition to being sad as the reality of how different your life is without your friend or family member hits. It may be really helpful to have helpline numbers handy at this stage and/or to stay in contact with your loved one’s. If you do have physical symptoms, including anxiety attacks, seek professional advice. The breathing exercise outlined above under “shock” could help.
In this stage your grief could shift and feel different as you start to move on with your life. It is possible you will be more calm and find social interactions with friends and colleagues easier. You may also feel guilt that you are not constantly grieving and even resent that guilt. All of this is normal.
As you experience some, or all of these stages, don’t forget this is your grief mountain, not a checklist. You may finish one, then circle back to it as you remember something else, or move onto a new stage. Just take each day as it comes and allow your brain to work through the grief.
The bereavement experience with all of its stages and emotions are normal. If you want to continue your relationship with the person who died, think of happy memories and ask them for advice – more often than not you will know what they would say. Alternatively, if you need to move on from a complex and difficult relationship, then allow yourself to do so. The only thing that is certain with bereavement is that our reactions to it are as individual as our personalities, so be gentle with yourself and take all the time you need.