“My best friend said to me once, ‘I don’t think you have ever taken the time to grieve your husband,’ as if there is a beginning and end. When you love someone with all that you are, it is a journey that never fully starts and never truly ends.” – Julie Keating
Grief is one of those things that is so specific to you, and the relationship lost, no one can experience it the same. And there is also no such thing as a “normal” way to reconcile how you feel.
If you feel as if things will never get better, you will always be stuck in despair, or if you think that you aren’t moving forward healthily, take heart. There is no magic time limit, the sequence of steps or an exemplary approach to move past the hurt, sadness, and emptiness that you might be feeling.
What are the Five Stages of Grief?
There are five stages of grief that most people go through on their road to moving forward. That does not mean that you pass one stage and then move on to the next without slipping back. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to transition from one stage to the next and back again. All of the feelings and emotions that you are experiencing are normal. And, unfortunately, necessary to adjust to a life without the person you love. And also, to find your new “happy” without them.
When someone is taken from us, the first thing we attempt to do is buffer ourselves from pain. Because it is so intense and overwhelming, our mind’s natural response is to shut it out and ignore or deny that it is really happening. Denial helps us to ease into the severity of the feelings that follow loss. When you view your life in one way and have some sense of order, and that life is so permanent and immediately altered, the mind can’t grasp it right away.
Our brains only give us what we can handle. And in times of high and sudden transition, we unintentionally deny what is happening so that the flood gates aren’t opened enough to swallow us whole. It is entirely reasonable to reject the notion that someone we love is gone forever. And also, not to accept that we will never see them again. It is too much to digest all at once. Denial allows us to piecemeal the situation so that it is within our ability to cope with the things that will come once we acknowledge the reality to breach our psyche and let the truth in.
If anyone steals something of great value from you, your natural instinct is to be angry. When a loved one is taken from you suddenly, or, otherwise, feelings of anger are entirely reasonable and necessary. The problem is that there is really no one to be angry with. If you are religious, then you may find yourself angry with God. If you aren’t, then maybe you become upset with the cosmos. But you have to place that anger somewhere.
The thing about anger is that it is a tool and a necessary one. Feelings of sadness and loss make you feel out of control and helpless. When you are angry, it allows you to take back some assertion over how you think. Anger is an active thing; it makes you feel powerful and very much in control. Your mind shifts into a position where you feel as if you can gain some semblance of control over your life again, and get through the deep feelings of sorrow. It is not uncommon to fly off the handle or to blame and displace your anger.
Other People in Your Life Must Develop Thick Shoulders
Those who love you have to develop thick shoulders to absorb some of the intense emotions that you have. The anger and resentment might start to overcome you. And you might feel like it will never dissipate, but it will. Once the feelings of helplessness and isolation begin to give way to a new normal in your life, you will find that you no longer need the shield of rage or the power that it gives you. You will gain other sources of strength, and the pain will not be as intense. And when that happens, and you can move on, you will slowly let go.
Bargaining is a way that we, as human beings, try to get what we want. And also, to obtain what we need in life. The same is true when you are afraid to lose something extraordinary. There seems to be nothing that you wouldn’t give to change the situation you are in when someone you love dies or is dying. And it is entirely reasonable to start to bargain with powers in your life. As if you are stuck in a maze trying to find your way out of feeling grief and loss, you try to find avenues to get out of going through the center of it.
You make promises like, “I will never say a bad word to my wife again…” Or, you offer things to alleviate the situation like, “You can have me if you just let my child live.” Bargaining is the stage where you begin to ask, “What if?” Since you can’t imagine that life could be any other way than how it used to be, you try to make a deal to have things return to normal.
And at the heart of it, you are willing to make any sacrifice to keep them here. The bargaining stage keeps us living in the past, trying to negotiate our feelings so that we don’t have to let go. Much like anger, bargaining is a tool to gain power and to deny what is going on. It also is a way we seek to find a scenario for ourselves that is more acceptable. And one not filled with so much pain that lies ahead.
Once we can begin to let go of anger and accept that we can’t negotiate for things to return to the way they were before, depression sets in. The reality is that we can’t stop the inevitable from happening. And also that we have to move on without the person, we love. Depression is a feeling of hopelessness at the inability to change anything or to bring the past back.
In this instance, depression is not a symptom of an underlying mental illness; it is a response to the loss you are experiencing. Facing the reality that no matter what you want, and what you do, you are not going to have the life you want, is hard and concrete. It can sometimes feel as if someone took the light that used to shine in heart, and blew it out. It can leave you feeling empty like there is nothing else that matters but the loss you feel.
Acceptance is a feeling that might come in a year or thirty years; there is no timeline. But the good news is, it will happen. The thing about acceptance is that it doesn’t mean you are totally over the loss and that you have put it behind you and have moved on. It also doesn’t mean that you will never go through the stages again. Unfortunately, grief is not a once and done situation.
You don’t go through the stages methodically, wash your hands of it, and leave it entirely behind never to surface again. When you lose someone, unfortunately, there will inevitably always be a tinge of sadness in your soul. But at some point, you won’t cry when you think about the person who is no longer at your side. It won’t feel as if your heart is going to break at the mere thought of them. They won’t be so vivid in your mind that it is like a wave of sickness that flows over you. Acceptance allows you to remember the person you love without feeling deep despair and desperation.
Eventually, Anger Will Give way to Appreciation
The stage of acceptance allows you to start to think about the things you loved about the person who is no longer with you and to feel lucky to have had them for the brief time you did, instead of sad they are gone. Or, it can allow you even to be angry that someone took them. Acceptance allows you to fondly have them in your memory without the sting of all the other sad emotions that used to overwhelm you. It also will enable windows to open for you to let others into your life. They will never take the place of the person you lost.
The Steps of Grief are not set in Stone
The person you lost will forever be captured within your soul. They are a part of you, and you a part of them. But you can relish in the beautiful relationship you shared and feel blessed, instead of robbed, of their company. And you can enjoy that you were lucky that you had them in your life for no matter how brief of a time they were able to light your heart. When you reach the stage of acceptance, it is like that little light begins to come back again.
It is a slow process, but one day you wake up, and you realize that you have settled into your new routine and that things will be okay. You will feel as if life is meant to be lived to the fullest. And you will take the very best lessons learned with you. The acceptance stage is a time of recalling who you are independent of the person who is gone, not negating that they were there holding you up and supporting you.
You celebrate their life instead of mourning their death. And once you reach acceptance, it is like coming out the other end, knowing you made it through the storm. You are still alive to carry on, and your loved one would want the very best for you. And that involves moving forward, finding love, and your new “normal” for a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life.
Grieving is not an Exact Process – It is a Journey
Five stages have been recognized in the grieving process that almost all individuals go through. But be on your own time with grieving. Don’t think that there is a normal stage of progression or that at some point, you should move on and that not moving forward is pathological. We all have to come to terms with loss in our own way and at our own pace. Unfortunately, trying to push through the stages only leaves us at the beginning in denial. And denial is not living your authentic life. You need to allow yourself the time to come to terms with the loss, the anger, the sadness, and yes, the desperate need to try to beg for some other resolution.
Remember, what you are feeling and what you think about in the darkest recesses of your mind does not make you a bad person. It also does not make you mentally ill, or wrong, or abnormal. No one can ever understand what you are feeling and going through, because no one can walk in your shoes. They fit only you, and you have to walk the path yourself until you reach a destination where you can look on a new horizon and see hope, fond memories, and feel blessed to have had whatever short time you had with the person who meant so much to you.
Hold Strong and be Determined
Hold steady, be determined, allow yourself the time to heal, to feel, and to grieve. And don’t be guided by anyone else’s expectations of when you’ve grieved enough. There is no such thing. If you fall back into the stages, or if something hits you and it stings like the moment you lost them, breathe deeply. Sometimes the hardest part is thinking you have reached the acceptance stage only to be pulled back in. The good news is the more times you go through the stages, the easier it becomes to transition from one to the next. But you will never be through grieving your loss; it will just become different and sometimes filled with more happiness than the depression that you feel right now.