tw: death, suicide
We have often heard of the term “Grief”, and the “Stages of Grief”. But most of us don’t actually know much about the concept. What is Grief? What are the stages of Grief? What causes Grief? This post will introduce you to it all.
What Is Grief?
Grief is a main part of life that everyone goes through at some point in their lives.
Grief is a process that takes time and it’s okay to take as long as you need to heal instead of hiding the pain. Please remember that you are not alone and that your lost ones are all in a better place.
Most people go through grief when their loved ones pass away or when they suffer a broken heart from relationships. Although these examples are most common, they’re not all there is to grief. Any loss in life could trigger grief, and no one should feel ashamed of feeling so. Grief leads to overwhelming pain and all other kinds of difficult, unexpected emotions that may also affect one’s physical health. The more significant the loss, the more intense one’s grief will be. Causes of grief include miscarriages, loss of stability, loss of health etc.
Fortunately, there are healthy ways to cope with the grieving process, and with time, they will ease your intense emotions as well as help you eventually come to terms with, and move forward from your loss.
The 5 Stages of Grief
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, discovered and came up with this theory of grief which includes the 5 most common emotions experienced during the grieving process. Please note that there is no particular order of these stages, and that not everyone has all 5 of these emotions when grieving.
Denial involves refusing to acknowledge your loss, seemingly minimizing the pain of it. A common saying is that your head accepts the truth but your heart just can’t accept it.
Our minds need time to accept, adjust and move forward in life without the person we lost, and it’s a lot to go through the painful reality while there’s a playback of happy memories inside our heads. Denial slows down this process of grief and allows us to go through it with small steps, without feeling overwhelmed all of a sudden.
Surprisingly, anger actually pushes you into healing. It is an important stage in recovering from your loss. It is normal to be angry when experiencing the loss of loved ones, since we are trying to accept this new reality that is likely to cause extreme emotional discomfort.
Losing a loved one could cause you to feel less important and powerless since you can’t control or stop from the loss from happening. By feeling anger, it allows us to have an emotional outlet and express emotions with less fear of judgment or rejection. Having a sense of control through anger can be a good reminder that you are strong and the strength in you is more powerful than you think it is.
When coping with grief, it is common that moments where you tell yourself that you will do anything to minimise the pain or that you will do everything for that person to be back in your life occur. Bargaining is like praying for a specific outcome while knowing it is impossible. You might start to make promises in exchange for lost time. During the process of bargaining, you acknowledge your loss along with conditions that create a sense of said loss not having occurred.
While bargaining could give a sense of control into something out of our own control, it also tends to focus on personal faults or regret, a part of bargaining where many people look back on the past and wish they had done things differently. This is something very common, yet we believe your loved ones wouldn’t want to see you blaming yourself for something that’s not your fault.
Please note that this differs from clinical depression but one similar aspect is ongoing sadness, however depression from grief will eventually pass. This includes loss of appetite, lasting sadness and frequent crying, trouble sleeping and more. When brutal reality hits and the loss of loved ones is felt the most intensely, the loss will feel more present and unavoidable. You may find yourself retreating and reaching out less to others about what you are going through.
In extreme situations, the grief could lead to one having suicidal thoughts. If you are having self harm or suicidal thoughts, please immediately contact a mental health professional or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for free confidential support 24/7. For those in Hong Kong, you can always visit https://www.edb.gov.hk/en/student-parents/crisis-management/helpline-community-resources/index.html and seek help.
This is when you understand your loss and you realise how important that person or thing meant to you. This doesn’t mean that you are not allowed to feel pain or cry again and accepting their death does not mean you no longer feel the pain from the loss, but you see a path of moving forward. You understand that they are still there with you emotionally and spiritually. Sadness and regret can still be present in this phase, but the emotional survival tactics of denial, bargaining, and anger are less likely to be present. You didn’t move on from your grief but instead you moved toward, through and forward with it.
Acknowledging the permanence of loss does not mean you will ever forget your loved one. Even if it is no longer the main focus in your world, remembering them will always be important to you. An anniversary, their birthday or anything that brings back memories of them will not be easy at all but it is okay to not be okay whenever you are reminded of them.
There is no specific time period suggested for any of these stages. Someone may experience the stages fairly quickly, such as in a matter of weeks, where another person may take months or even years to get to a place of acceptance. However much time it takes for you to move through these stages is perfectly okay. Grieving is not a linear process, and however you are doing it is the right way to do it.
Research: Tiffany Ngai, Editors: Charlotte Leung, Hailey Wong, Thumbnail + Text Transcription: Megan Kwok