No one person grieves the same as another. We are all different, with different needs, make-up and challenges. Grieving is our own personal way of processing new information and, as such, reflects who we are as much as it does the relationship we had/are having with the person or thing for whom or for which we are grieving. It is true to say that the depth of our grief is correlative to the depth of our love for that person or thing. We would not know grief, had we not known love.
And while we can say that the approximate boundaries of grief may fall within certain parameters and often within a certain codified pattern, we cannot say that everyone will experience grief the same way or in the same pattern. Not at all. Some people may experience the same five stages in an approximate order and some will not experience all five and not in any order. Men tend to not experience all of the five and women tend to experience nearly all of them. Some people may experience grief in these five stages but not in an orderly fashion; the process may be messy, whereby several stages are felt at once or some felt but not in the order suggested. Also, some may experience different aspects of grief in the order of the five stages with these different aspects overlapping and happening simultaneously, in a way that resembles different parts of the grief being launched at the same time and taking their own path through their healing. This outline is not intended to apply to everyone and every experience. In fact, to state the five stages of grief as I have come to know them, might in itself be limiting if they are thought to be the only way to grieve, especially if they imply a norm that if not met might imply failure or one ‘not doing it right’. Again, there is not one way to grieve that is right for everybody. Ultimately, we must follow our own guidance and our own body’s cues about how our grief might best be expressed and heard.
And lastly, while these stages might be helpful, they don’t address the core mechanics and expression of grief. Ultimately our grief is our expression of our relationship with the experience that we lost. The person we loved who died, the experience of hope that was dashed, the lost pregnancy, the lost job, the newly sober alcoholic experiencing life without alcohol; these griefs are the expression of the depth of meaning that those experiences brought. And a core part of that grieving will be in the telling of that story to oneself and to others. Sharing our grief is a core part of having that story be known, but it is not just in the telling that our healing comes, but also comes in our story being heard, received, understood and appreciated.
Given the reservations to outlining an approximation for some of the processes of grief, here are the basics that might help as touchstones in navigating the healing process of grief. Below, we'll cover the first two stages of grief, with the remaining three covered in the following post.
Stage 1: Shock
Grieving begins with shock. We enter shock with the news of the change. Even when the change has been long-expected, such as with the death of a loved one after a long illness, it is always a shock when it arrives. There is little that can prepare you for the feelings when they land even if you have long-known they would come. And so, shock does the preparation for you. It holds you in a still silence, the eye of the storm, as the news swirls noiselessly around you. If there are tears, they are silent and the face is still. The breath is slight, barely moving. Shock is frozen in a sense, like a photograph of a bomb blast going off, a crater in the ground with debris erupting upwards, motionless. Shock will thaw and can erupt in bouts of activity, mindless distraction, that is denial.
Stage 2: Denial
Denial allows us to breathe again after the shock, but without plunging headlong into our grief just yet. It lets us know that the information is there, but has it suspended, holding it from sinking in. The information is known but isn’t allowed to be real; it hangs in the ether outside of the body, unprocessed. If there are tears, they are silent and run in straight lines down the face. From the eye of the storm, the change is noticed but not allowed to enter into the body where it would become a belief.
Chronic denial can result from the belief that facing the grief would be too hard to even consider, so holding back on that is the best way forward. Chronic denial can lead to addictions and illness, as well as the stunted sense of reality that goes with it.
Removing any blocks to the grieving process can result in the next stage unfolding, that of sadness. To learn more about this, please see The Last 3 Stages of Grief.