Amy Eksteen

Today, we will be coming to an end of our discussion about grief and loss (click here to access Part 1).

By the works of Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross, we are taught that when we experience loss or death, there are stages that we have to work through. The 5 stages of grief include:

  1. Denial (This stage is said to help us survive the loss, giving us time to process the death since we may feel like we’re in a state of shock)
  2. Anger (This is the emotion that is mainly experienced during this grief stage as this emotion is a usual outlet for any pain that might be experienced)
  3. Bargaining (Guilt is the emotion often experienced in this stage, where you might find yourself wanting to go back into the past and bargain your way out of having to deal with the loss)
  4. Depression (When experiencing this stage, many feel as if it can last forever. Feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness after experiencing loss is a normal and natural response. It is not always an indication of mental illness)
  5. Acceptance (In this stage we come to an understanding that our new reality is our permanent reality, without the presence of the person/thing we lost. It is a point of realising that there is a need to adjust and adapt to a new way of life)

Essentially, when we experience loss, we are expected to go through/experience these stages, finally reaching a place of ‘acceptance’ or a way of coping with our sense of loss in the end. These stages aren’t meant to be experienced in a chronological/linear order, starting with denial and ending in acceptance. Some people go straight to a form of acceptance after their loss. Some begin with experiencing depression, anger, denial and then acceptance. Your experience of these stages can also fluctuate – going back and forth between certain stages. It truly depends on the person. Some normal feelings you may experience when grieving include: Guilt, shame, loneliness, tiredness, anxiety and/or even relief if a loved one, for example, has fought a long battle with an illness.

The works of William Worden explain that there are 4 tasks that one must accomplish during the grieving process. These tasks include:1) Accept the reality of the loss2) Process your grief and pain3) Adjust to the world without your loved one in it4) Find a way to maintain a connection to the person who died while embarking on your own life path.

Now, I do find the explanation of the stages of grief and the tasks of mourning helpful. The stages of grief do provide a way for us to to better understand our emotional responses that we might experience by providing an explanation through each stage. The tasks for mourning also give us helpful ways to cope. It is still important to remember that your grieving experience is unique and so your experience and interpretation of these stages and tasks will also be unique. I do, however, believe that grief is much more complicated than the information and explanation of five stages and four simple tasks. This is why I personally believe that the explanation of one’s “assumptive world” is the most helpful when trying to come to a place of understanding during your journey of loss and grief.
Your assumptive world refers to your assumptions, outlook and beliefs about reality and the world you are surrounded by. It is how you choose to live your life, according to your beliefs and it aids in your feelings of safety, security and consistency. When you face death/loss and even trauma, your assumptive world is challenged and sometimes even changed. Your beliefs about the way the world is ‘supposed to work’ are questioned. This can cause a shift in your internal belief system and your perception of your reality.

When you are faced with an overwhelming sense of loss and grief, you may question your knowledge about reality. You may question your understanding of the way you believe things should be, therefore having to find a new sense of ‘normality’ or a new state of peace – a new understanding of the world and your reality by rebuilding your assumptive world. Experiencing loss and grief is a journey of acknowledging that your world isn’t the same anymore and that you need to find ways of coming to a place where you can accept and adjust to a new world/reality where your loss and experience of grief will be a part of it. This experience can cause a significant amount of distress and disruption to one’s life, which will often elicit a lot of the complicated emotions and experiences provided and explained by the stages of grief and the tasks of mourning. They offer us additional understanding and ways to cope while we experience our journey of recreating our ‘new world’, but the loss and grief experience simply cannot be confined or limited to stages of grief and tasks of mourning.

When understanding the experience and effects of the grieving process, the discussion about rebuilding your assumptive world is easier to comprehend because there’s no added pressure. When we experience loss and grief and are faced with stages and tasks, I feel like it adds pressure to the griever and mourner. What if one is never able to get to a place of acceptance and aren’t able to find meaning in their loss? I feel like the stages and tasks of grief and mourning place this highly unlikely expectation that when we experience loss and grief, we have to come to a place of acceptance and a place where we can continue and cope as normal, as we once did before our loss. When in reality, our idea of ‘normal’ has now, most likely, completely changed and it is more about the journey we take in figuring that out, which can be life-long. I feel like the process of grief and loss isn’t about coming to a place of ‘acceptance’, as such, but more about coming to a place where you can accept recreating a whole new world, a whole new belief system and a new outlook on your own reality and to be at peace with it.

The truth about experiencing loss and grief is that there is no point of recovery. Your experience of loss and grief, understanding your fluctuating emotions and learning coping strategies, is all a part of the journey. You are likely to go through good and bad stages and sometimes, when we go through major life transitions or moments like weddings, graduations, birth of children, birthdays and special events that signify rights of passage, our sense of grief or loss can be brought about/re-experienced. One of the ways of making the experience of loss and grief easier can be done by challenging societies norms of avoiding conversations about death. Instead we should be encouraging those who are having difficulties with their experience of loss and grief to express their emotions, while we are able to be an endless source of support. One of the best ways to cope is by focusing on ways to build your resilience. You can do this by surrounding yourself with supportive people, who encourage you to talk about your experience of loss and grief, can be an amazing way to help you adapt, lift your perspective and overcome challenges, essentially helping you to build resilient qualities while on your journey. After all, grief has it’s own timeline and moments of reappearance. Rebuilding a new understanding of your world and reality can be a scary thing too. Overall the journey you have to walk when you experience grief and loss is not an easy one. And it is definitely not a journey you have to face and walk alone.

7 ways to cope with grief/loss:

  1. Talk to people – find a group of people or someone that you trust, that you feel understands you and use those people/person as a support system. This can help you to tell your own story when you talk about your loss and grief. It can help you recreate your new assumptive world.
  2. Write – write about your feelings and your emotions. There will be good days and bad days. Journal through the emotional experiences.
  3. Use art – draw or paint. Find creative ways to express your feelings.
  4. Photo’s – Take photo’s of things that remind you of what you have lost or that can express your experiences of grief.
  5. Prioritise happy moments – Discover things that make you happy and spend some time doing it. Make sure they bring you a little bit of joy and reduce stress.
  6. Memorabilia – Save or keep something that reminds you of the thing you lost or are grieving. You might even want to put together a memory box.
  7. Rituals – Have special ways to remember your loss. For example, if a loved one passed away, every year on their birthday, dedicate some time to doing something you know your loved one would have enjoyed or appreciated as a way of remembering and honouring them.
  8. Remind yourself of who you are – Do activities or read books that are self-esteem boosters. Sometimes when we go through grief and loss, the way you view yourself might change, so make sure those changes are more positive than negative.

I hope you found the blog posts from the last two days to be filled with helpful information. If you are experiencing an overwhelming sense of loss and grief and you feel like you aren’t coping, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Joining a grief group or seeing a grief counsellor may be two helpful options on your own grief journey.

If you’re interested in more information and in-depth explanations of the stages of grief, tasks of mourning and the assumptive world, use the links below:

All my love xx