Living Through Grief

By Mark Lauver RMHCI

We all at some point in our lives will have to face challenges, difficulties and loss. Grieving is a natural process that God gave us to deal with these experiences. Most people associate grief and mourning with death of a spouse, relative or someone we have a strong emotional attachment with. However there are many circumstances that might include grieving, including job loss, relationship breakups and major life changes caused by illness. In reality, any experiences or losses that affect us in a traumatic way can involve grieving.

An understanding of the grief process can assist us in working and understanding why we are experiencing and feeling the way we do. Most are familiar with the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross model of the “5 Stages of Grief”. She based her model on her work with terminally ill patients. What are the stages and how do they work? For this example, let’s look at what might happen when a long-term romantic relationship breaks up:

5 Stages

1. Denial

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance

Denial is where our emotional and sensory processes become overloaded. Statements such as:  “I can’t believe this is happening”, “I thought we were going to be together forever” might be thought or spoken. This stage is also where a person would feel the need to repeat the story numerous times which in essence is helping us to make the story real and allow us to begin to use the logical part of our brain again. This is also where a person might reach out to the other by calling or texting to test the probability of continuing the relationship.  By beginning to explore how and why this might have happened we begin to move away from the denial phase and continue the healing process.

In the anger phase we have acknowledged what is happening but are struggling with dealing with it. The expression of that anger is where the difficulty lies for many of us. Some can easily express anger outwardly but others may turn the anger inward resulting in self-blame and guilt. The anger can be directed toward the other person, the world or even God. Anger is a necessary and if expressed properly a healthy emotion. Understanding that this anger is part of the process can help you work through it. In the breakup scenario the anger is usually self-directed or placed upon the partner.

When we start to wish things were like they were before, we can to through the bargaining stage of the process. This is where we try to justify the loss and look back to see “where I went wrong or he went wrong” and try to fix the problems in our mind. This can become a blame yourself game and may give us the illusion if I “would have acted like she wanted” things would have turned out differently. Bargaining is a way of staying attached to the past and justifying the loss. This can be a helpful part of the process too. If there are things about you that you feel needed changing this can be a road map tohealthier relationship choices in the future.

Depression or extreme sadness is the next difficult step. This can be a major life disruption with effects on sleeping, eating, working and social functioning. Just getting out of bed or performing daily activities can become a daunting task.  As disabling as this step can be it is a necessary part of the grief process.  This is the time when negative cognitive thoughts may dominate your thinking and thoughts of the past relationship may be painful.   This is the step where most people get “stuck” and may require assistance to process through the darkness.  The bad news is that it is painfulbut the good news is that in the next stage comes freedom.

God’s grace will allow you to move to the acceptance stage.  This does not mean that suddenly the world is right and we forget what happened, but you have moved to a place where while understanding that your world has changed you are able to adjust and move forward. You can accept the lessons of the past hurt and loss and use those experiences to grow and make different choices in the future based on a position of greater knowledge and strength.

Identifying the stages of the grieving process may help you understand what you are experiencing and give hope for healing. In John 11:35 it is written, “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus even though, being God, he knew he would later raise him from the dead. When suffering a period of loss, set aside daily time for grieving and label the thoughts and emotions as part of the process.  Then, during your set grieving time, pray for God’s healing and loving arms to surround you while you think on those thoughts and experience those emotions