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When you lose a loved one, you go through the motions of writing a eulogy, organizing a funeral, and thanking others who offer condolences — all things that are expected of us and are pretty easy to do. Yet, no matter how much you keep yourself busy or how much time has passed, the heartbreaking tragedy of death still remains.
The loss of someone you love is daunting enough to deal with, and it’s even more devastating when he or she died by suicide. As we’ve previously shared in ‘Bearing the Special Grief of Suicide’, the process is filled with bewilderment, guilt, and unanswered questions. Carrying these feelings makes the road to recovery a much longer and complex path.
The Stages of Grief
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published the Kübler-Ross model for the five stages of grief. TIME Magazine notes that after interacting with terminally ill patients and their loved ones, she concluded that there are several stages involved in coming to terms with their fate.
• Denial: In the initial stage, bereaved people are in a state of shock because they cannot rationalize why the life of their loved one has reached its end. Being in denial is a natural defense mechanism that helps soften the painful blow of loss.
• Anger: As reality starts to set in, the anger felt over losing a loved one begins to manifest within your psyche. While it may not be the prettiest feeling, anger allows you to release the pain you’re experiencing.
• Bargaining: This stage is when you’re at your most vulnerable, as you find yourself asking a higher power to bring back your loved one by proposing an impossible deal.
• Depression: After realizing that no bargain will cause the hands of time to reverse, the sullen stage of depression starts. During this time, one tends to detach themselves from the rest of the world, as the feeling of emptiness is embodied.
• Acceptance: This final stage of grief doesn’t mean you feel okay about the person’s death. Rather, it’s about coming to terms with the fact that they are no longer present, and life goes on.
The Reality of Our Grief
The Kübler-Ross model was instrumental in our collective understanding of loss and grief, and can be a good way to examine how we deal with our own pain. However, the numbering — and the way the stages have come to be understood — makes it easy for us to mistake grief for a set of clearly identifiable steps that can be dealt with cleanly, like graduating after years of high school. But the reality is far from this.
Indeed, even Kübler-Ross herself had cautioned against thinking of her stages as stops on a linear timeline, pointing out that not everybody goes through them all, and in the order she had laid them out. And while suicide grief will have some key identifiable stages as the Kübler-Ross model helps us understand, the entire process often feels chaotic.
Although it may seem easier and faster to cope in a straightforward fashion, the reality is that everybody deals with grief differently — in their own way, and in their own time. One day, you might be detached and depressed, but the next, you find yourself still in denial. Grief is a journey where you tend to get lost along the way. Thinking about it as five stages to accomplish adds to both the pressure and guilt you’re already feeling. You might find yourself asking like “Why can’t I move on?” or “Why am I taking a step back and repeating a stage?” — so it’s important to be patient with yourself.
After all, losing a loved one to suicide is not something that anyone can get over easily, and the effects on our mental health can manifest in our lives in ways we don’t even notice. This is why psychiatrists at Maryville University highlight a connection between your mental health and your success at school or work, mainly because the grief doesn’t stop at home. It’s hard to eat, it’s hard to sleep, but it will also be hard to try and live your life normally feeling the weight of your loss, an empty gravity that is always there.
The passage of grief is like a path in a forest with obstacles and dark tunnels that we must go through and even, at times, return to. It’s especially important to seek the help of others during this time, as researchers from the Australian National University have found that those who disengaged themselves from others, which is a natural tendency of those grieving, suffered physically and mentally from doing so.
The most we can do is trust that although the process may be painful, there’s ultimately a light at the end of the tunnel. We have to be there for each other, and learn slowly that even if your loved one is not physically present, he or she is always with you. As unpredictable as life may be, one thing is for certain: Nothing or no one can erase that person’s place in your heart.
Exclusively written for soslsd.org
By: Lydia Piper