There are no stages of grief.
Society would have you believe there are five – like gates – that you have to pass through before you ‘finish’ grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
In fact, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who is often attributed with saying there were, never actually said that. She wrote a book about dying, and has been misquoted ever since.
You may well feel some of those emotions, but you might feel none. There isn’t an order to them if you do, any more than there is a time-frame associated with them. As well as denial you might spend time feeling jealous. As well as anger, you may feel sorrow. As well as guilt, you may feel relief.
Grief, then, is more like a roller-coaster than a flight of stairs.
When someone you care about dies, friends and colleagues – who genuinely mean well – will offer thoughts and platitudes to try and help you feel better. The reality is though, that most of what they’ll say will be unhelpful. They will talk about it, as if there is a ‘right’ way to grieve.
They’re not trying to hurt you, they just don’t know what else to do and say. They want to fix you and your pain, so that you feel better. The trouble is their good intentions can leave you feeling misunderstood, frustrated – even annoyed. So when they say things like “At least you’re still young, you can always get re-married’ or “I know exactly how you feel”, your grief goes underground. You stop talking about how you feel. And then they assume you’re ‘over it.’
This is why it’s time we improved the conversation around death, grief and loss.
Conversations around death and dying, grief and bereavement need to start with recognising that everyone is different. The way I mourn for a loved one will be different to the way you grieve, depending on many things including beliefs and circumstances. But even with all the support in the world, I will never be ‘over it’. To be ‘over it’ suggests I will forget, and that’s not going to happen. What I can do, is survive it and find a way forward from what’s happened, knowing it will always be a part of me. And you can do that too.
There are organisations in the UK who provide free support, and if you’re worried about how you’re coping have a chat with your doctor. In the meantime, you might find this book by Megan Devine useful, or show your friends and colleagues the video below.
Copyright Delphi Ellis 2019