A close friend of mine just lost her grandfather. I was talking with her about her feelings; and little did I know that once I got home, I would get the phone call from my sister telling me about the passing of my grandfather. Suddenly the comforting words I was trying to share with my friend were a reality in my own life.
No matter how much you know about death, or if death is expected, it’s hard to be prepared for the finality of death. In my case, I knew my grandfather was in his last days and I thought I was ready. I had said goodbye. I believed he was moving on to a happier place and could be reunited with my grandmother. However, to hear the words, “Rachael, Grandpa is gone,” well, it still brought me to a mental, emotional and physical standstill.
Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004) was a psychiatrist who helped change the perception and attitude about terminally ill patients and their experience with death. Her book, On Death and Dying, was first published in 1969 and it outlined five stages of death after conducting years of research and interviews.
- Shock/Denial. You may feel fine or not have any visible signs of illness. This can lead to the thought process of, “This can’t be happening to me.”
- Anger. After the shock or denial wears off, your condition may become worse; it’s hard to deny your illness. Anger is a common emotion as you ask the question, “Why me?”
- Bargaining. Facing death or facing losing a loved one is painful and often comes with bargaining, pleading, and/or negotiating for a longer life. People who are religious may turn to God and plead for a cure or extension to life by promising good behavior or an exchange of some kind. For example, if you let my husband live, I’ll never drink again.
- Depression. It’s normal to feel depression facing the loss of a loved one or your own life. During this stage be careful to avoid maladaptive behaviors like excessive drinking or drug use. Seek professional help if depression is interfering with your ability to perform daily tasks.
- Acceptance. During this phase, you dare to hope for peace and happiness. You may experience moments of laughter and enjoyment and feel life again.
It’s important to note that everyone grieves in their own way. Not everyone will grieve in this order or may move back and forth between the stages of grief. You may feel like you have conquered one stage, only to have a setback. The point is to allow yourself to grieve in your own way. Feeling is good, even if the feelings are sad or painful.
Once you can process your true feelings you can move forward with whatever the next step is. Maybe it’s saying goodbye to a loved one or it’s you who is saying goodbye. Either way, may you someday, somehow, have peace.