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grief is a process

Moving through the Grief Process.

For many their approach to death or the death of a loved one has been linked to the amount of meaning and purpose they have found throughout their lifetime and the individuals beliefs about what happens after death.

The Kübler-Ross model, The Five Stages of Dying or The Five Stages of Grief is a useful model and yet it is so important to remember that each individual is unique and will grieve in their own way and their own time. That each of us has our own grief process and to honour that. It is also important though to remember it is a process and it does have a beginning, a middle and an end to it.

  • Denial — “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
    Denial is usually only a temporary defence for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death.
  • Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”
    Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy.
  • Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”
    The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time…”
  • Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die… What’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.
  • Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
    In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with her/his mortality or that of a loved one.

(The five steps are from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Even, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross who has become a known expert in the field stated that it’s important to note that these stages are not meant to be complete or chronological. Not everyone who experiences a life-threatening or life-changing event feels all five of her models responses nor will everyone who does experience them do so in the order that is written. Reactions to illness, death, and loss are as unique as the person experiencing them.

“Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body.”

By Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

 I have had the privilege to be present at several deaths the most recent the passing of my mother and the quotation above by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross is very true to my own life experience.

My husband who had never been present at a person’s passing before but who was with me at the passing of my mother said to me. “I never thought it would be so peaceful.” This got me to thinking about how in North America we have a very fear based view of death and how that fear has caused us to hide it, avoid it and misunderstand it.  I don’t know exactly why I have had a different view of death, perhaps it was because my brother was killed when I was six or maybe it has to do with a lucid dream I had of my own death when I was 18 where I wrote my own epitaph and encouraged the people at my memorial to celebrate my life and to be happy for me. For whatever reason, I have felt for a very long time that death is just a natural part of life, to be respected, to be loving and most of all to honour the person going through the process. We all have a right to die with dignity.

For those left behind grief is about what will be missed, the things that will not happen and what was left unfinished.

“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”                                   By Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

As I think about this quote I think of the positive things that death can teach us. To live as though each day is our last, so we make each moment count. To cherish those we love while they are still with us. To give our love freely and unconditionally so those special people in our lives know how we feel about them regularly. Being compassionate, solution oriented and forgiving so we don’t have unfinished business. To make the time or put in the effort to do the things we really want to do instead of putting it off.

“Dying is an integral part of life, as natural and predictable as being born. But whereas birth is cause for celebration, death has become a dreaded and unspeakable issue to be avoided by every means possible in our modern society. Perhaps it is that” “I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.”    

By Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

 For me Death is a natural part of life. It reminds us to live life to the fullest. It is also something that cannot truly be avoided. All of us will at some point die. We can also die well when our time comes. So talking about death and planning for death, respecting those around us in that grief process. Celebrating those who have graduated and remembering them for their contributions to our lives. Yes we will miss them and yet no one can take away the time or experiences we have had. See the blessings we have been given instead of things you think you may have missed. Be loving and forgiving to yourself also. Honour your own grief process and those of others for there is truly no one right way to do this.