Grief and Mourning

Thoughts on grief and mourning…

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, renowned psychologist who’d specialized in working with those who’d lost a loved one, famously suggested that there are 5 predictable “steps” one encounters as part of their grieving cycle. Further, key to her theory is that these steps are linear, that is, there is an order to them. The five steps are: denial, anger , bargaining, depression , and finally acceptance. While the grieving individual may well benefit from exploring these steps either individually or while in therapy, it is this writer’s experience in working with those who mourn that while there may be legitimacy to the steps or phases themselves, I don’t believe that they are necessarily experienced in a linear fashion.

For those grieving, critical to understand is the idea that our subjective experience(s) can – and surely will – be all over the proverbial map. The minute we believe we’ve come to some form of “acceptance” of the loss, we can once again find ourselves entrenched in a sense of “denial”. We can be angry one minute and feel depressed the next. While I should be careful in holding Kubler-Ross’s theory to too rigid a standard, for she could well have intended for some more flexibility to be available in understanding her theory, my concern is for the many mourners that hope for these phases to unfold in an orderly fashion only to be surprised when a different outcome ensues. These individuals are looking for what may amount to the only semblance of predictability or reliability in their heartbroken lives, and will often feel disillusioned when their grieving doesn’t unfold as it “should”, and/or will sometimes come to conclude that there is something wrong with them on account of the absence of this supposed orderly progression.

It is important to know that grief is very personal; it inevitably manifests in different ways for various people. There is little about it that is predictable…apart from the pain.

In turn, my goal in walking with the grieving person is to provide them a safe, non-judgmental environment in which to feel and experience whatever the outcome of their loss will bring. Sometimes people need to know they aren’t “crazy” or overreacting. Other times they require a sounding board by which they can explore the ramifications of their loss – an opportunity to talk out and even come to relate to their grief. Alternatively, they benefit from a facilitator to help them feel their feelings; appreciate that some clients actually experience numbness rather than pain on account of their internal workings’ method of avoiding hurt.

Regardless, much as I consider ALL of my clients to be on some level, I see those that seek therapy for grief as courageous. Grief therapy is reliably a painful, challenging process. But for those that choose to submit to it with me, there is never a shortage of Kleenex. Or regard.

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