The 5 steps of grief or stages of grief comes from a famous model named after Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, as her book “On death and dying” in 1969 opened doors to far more sensitive treatment to individuals with fatal diseases. She defined the following mourning stages:
It is a helpful model to use when thinking in the abstract about the process of mourning, but if you are in the midst of it then it is far more likely to feel like a messy and emotionally exhausting process with two steps forward and one step back rather than anything with clean edges and defined stages. However it can help to look back and see how far you have come from the first traumatic realisation that the person you love is not there anymore.
To try and help with the more messy side but accept that some understanding of different stages does exist here are some pointers to ways to help yourself move away from the traumatic state where the world seems almost pointless.
Acceptance in your head.
If you cannot find a way to build the story of the time leading up to the death and death itself, you may only have the traumatic experience at a gut level. You may well then remain in a childlike state where you cannot relax and you assume the death of another person you love is just around the corner. This post traumatic state of being can then continue and the actual event of the death can leave you stuck in that moment itself, reliving it, without your head accepting that it is over and you cannot change what happened.
By thinking through the events and characters within the timeframe you choose, you can put together the story of the last few weeks or days.
Everyone experiences a moment or time of trauma around a death, whether brief or very severe. This moment might be the death itself (if very sudden) or the ‘phone’ call. For many it is a period of time leading up to the death, weeks or hours. It may be the time of decline and slipping into frailty of the one you love; it could be the ambulance drive, the warning conversation with a doctor or even the distress of another close to the person who is dying.
The story helps you move into a period of mourning rather than staying like a rabbit in headlights, stuck in the moment of trauma. Mourning is an important stage to reach. Tell the story of the time before and the time of the death of the one you love.
Acceptance in your heart.
Anniversaries, birthdays, family time festivals can be very poignant, especially in the first year. It can feel important to sidestep the pain of reminders and to live in a sort of denial, a void where you cannot go some places, get up on some days. However when you feel strong enough, start to go places that were jointly important to you and the one who has died and acknowledging anniversaries small and big. Each time can bring you a little resolution in your heart. Talking with others about their memories on these anniversaries may seem just too hard, but ultimately it is these shared moments of letting others know how important the things you miss are and hearing others memories that can help with acceptance in your heart.
Sometimes people who love you find your grief very difficult to see and want you to avoid things that mean they might have to watch you in distress. Sometimes people want this new mourning every time an expected memory touches you to go away quickly. However, it will take the time it takes. You can help yourself though by not avoiding this part of mourning; be brave and encourage others to be courageous with you. In the long run everybody’s distress feel a little less raw and the capacity to share good memories will be increase enormously.
These two things are key steps to feeling less fragile in yourself:
1. Finding acceptance in your head of the reality and moving away from the traumatic moment into the journey of mourning and
2. Gently discovering acceptance in your heart along the journey of grief.
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