In the final post in this Conscious Grieving series, we cover the last three stages of grief, as well as the aftermath these stages, and the long-term affect grief can have on us when we grieve well. For the first two stages of grief, please see The First 2 Stages of Grief.
Stage 3: Sadness/Rage
When the stage of sadness comes, it comes in heaving sobs with scrunched up mouth and eyes and tears across entirely wet cheeks. The process of grieving is essentially the processing of new information and the first two stages were preparation for this one; they were the stopping of ordinary life and the knowing that change would come soon as we held it at bay, readying ourselves for that moment when we engaged. Sadness begins with the moment of engagement with the truth of the new information soaking down deep into our psyche, coursing through our bodies, taking us with it on a rollercoaster of emotion. It is the embracing of the change emotionally as we sob our way into the abyss and allow ourselves to let go and simply wallow there. This stage of grief is to fully soak in, to be drenched in, emotion, and it is the first stage where we receive the news we have dreaded and allow it to begin processing its way throughout our bodies. This stage is the physical and emotional processing of grief.
If we resist the sadness stage and suppress it, it will burst out as rage; the type of emotion that would promptly take a glass and smash it against a wall and then fade just as quickly followed by whimpering or a resigned sense of sadness.
Stage 4: Understanding
Understanding comes after sadness and is the first stage where we begin to consider the full ramifications of what this news means. This stage is the mental processing of grief and engages the mental processes in a step by step manner. Each aspect of how the grief impacted our lives is made aware. The loss made me ‘this way’ with my family, it made our family ‘this way’ with each other, it made my understanding of life ‘this way’, etc. The understanding phase helps us to see how the different aspects of the process have changed us as they have arisen and helps us to mentally process that.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The final stage of grief is acceptance of the aspects that we have come to understand as having been changed by the loss. I accept how the loss made me ‘this way’ with my family, how it made our family ‘this way’ with each other, how it made my understanding of life ‘this way’, etc. The acceptance phase helps us to absorb the new reality and take it in, to let it soak into our selves as the new truth about our lives. It is the stage where we become different in the knowledge of what we have experienced and where we reside in that, where we get to feel what that newness feels like and we are changed by that. We get to own our new place in the world here and how that changes our relationships with others and ourselves. Acceptance is the closing of the chapter of change that grief brings.
In the era after grief the tears sometimes still come but they don’t carry the sting that they once did. They are gentle, like spring rain, washing away the old residue of what once was. Memories don’t hurt like they did and the person or aspect lost can be loved and talked about with laughter again. In the epoch after grief, we know everything is different and will never be the same again, but we are changed with it and are able to carry the loss. Nothing will replace the loss, it will always be lost, but we grow around it and incorporate it into ourselves and into our lives; where once that loss engulfed us, now we have become bigger than it and absorbed it, and we have grown into a maturity that came with the process that we endured.
Grief doesn’t kill us. When it feels overwhelming and unfathomable, stay still and breathe. Have no thoughts and simply breathe. Allow the presence of being in the moment to carry you out of the panic and suddenness of overwhelm.
Spirituality, or a belief in the afterlife, or belief in a higher power can help, but these things aren’t necessary. When dealing with grief, we need an anchor in our own selves to stay steady and sure of who we are, as we change. Life changes us all the time; grief is just a more deep and more permanent change of who we are as we move through our lives. And grief is as natural as the waking and setting sun, life cycles that course through us all; to ignore it or suppress it or pretend it isn’t happening is not to step into the flow of life, and that is not to live at all.