The passages of life are filled with different developmental stages in which we grow emotionally, physically, psychologically, and intellectually. We are always being challenged with how life presents itself to us through different stressors. Some of our stressors can be extremely positive and others can be very difficult and challenging. One main stressor in life is dealing with the loss of a family member, or friend.
I had recently experienced a loss of a friendship which impacted me in a very sad and emotional way. This beautiful woman was not only a friend, but a colleague and a woman who was extremely outgoing, kind, caring, and spiritual. She died from cancer, but was a “warrior” throughout her disease. We were all wishing for a miracle for this young vivacious friend.
Just recently one of my best friends’ sister tragically died in a horse accident. This was unexpected and extremely devastating to all of her family, friends, and community. Often times we are lost for words in how to respond to tragic situations that occur in losing someone we know that is extremely dear to us.
As we grow older, we experience more losses from people in our lives. At the age of 5 children start to become curious about what happens when an animal or person dies. As a parent we may use the word that that animal or person “went to heaven.” Depending upon our religious or non religious beliefs, we may share our spiritual opinions on what happens after you die.
We are not prepared in our society to talk about death and dying in a positive manner often times. We may look upon it as horrible or fatal because we will be missing that person that has passed away. Instead of mourning the loss, we need to remember how important it is to celebrate their lives and share stories about them. Keeping their memories alive is vital to our grieving and coping with the loss of someone we love.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, she developed and researched five different stages on death and dying. I will describe each stage according to Dr. Kubler Ross so that you may have an accurate understanding of what you experience emotionally and physically in your own life when you are dealing with the loss of someone you have deeply cared about.
1.Denial and Isolation
The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry. Remember, grieving is a personal process that has no time limit, nor one “right” way to do it.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
After reviewing the five stages of death and dying by Dr. Kubler Ross, I want you to think about your own experiences with death and how it has impacted your life.
Please feel free to share your own personal stories with me so that we may help others on their journey of dealing with loss. We all need support, kind words, and friends to hold us up during this painful process.
Remember, celebrate each day and be mindful as if it were your last!