When things change, we grieve. The bigger the change, the more sudden the change, the harder the change, then the deeper is the grief.
Grief is an adjustment in the way we see the world. The harder that adjustment is, the more complex our grief end up being.
We humans go through many predictable stages. They can be in any order, and we don’t have to go through them all.
* Shock – This is the recognition of change. It often sets us back and we can demonstrate this phase by running around trying to get facts, or sitting in stunned silence. We can’t plan – we just have to get it through our heads this happened.
* Anger – We feel helpless that this has happened and we feel violated. Anger is the emotion that tells us this. We typically become aggressive to others, or to those we have lost, or we try to find someone or something to blame. We frequently aren’t very subtle. We find reasons to sustain our anger.
* Denial/disbelief – This is a little related to shock – where we first learn of the change, but this is a different as we have had this information for a bit and we know intellectually that it is so, yet we emotionally can’t accept it and so we try to find a way to prove it isn’t so, or just point blank refute the “in the cold of light” evidence.
* Bargaining – We try to find a way to change what has happened so it returns to the old model. This stage makes more sense when you can see change coming (someone is leaving, the task is over) yet we do it with sudden loss too (what if I did this, or if that happened, what if we tried this other thing). Change is inevitable and you can never go back. You can just make a new thing. Yet we want the old familiar, comfortable old, even if we loved or hated it.
* Pain / guilt – It hurts. Change does that. We miss those who have gone and we can express this in the form of weeping, crying, keening, sleeping, silence and so on. To justify this pain, we often try to find someone to blame – when we can’t blame others, we blame ourselves. We try to find a reason to justify our guilt, seeking minor things we might have done wrong, escalating them to things that we did do wrong and would have staved off this thing that created change. This is false. People make decisions and you aren’t responsible for them. If it isn’t a person’s choice, then it is another random factor (rock falling on someone’s head, car accident, animal attack etc) that no one could have affected. Only if you point the weapon and pull the trigger can you be held responsible, and that is a legal matter we aren’t getting into. In the vast majority of times, it wasn’t you.
* Depression – When the emotions are too much for us to bear, we shut down. This is kind of like the automatic cut off switch in electrical goods – it’s too much, so rather than being damaged, we shut down. We do less, we avoid stimuli, we find it hard to feel (whether it is emotional, sensory or taste etc), and we just seek to escape. This is okay. It just means the rest is too hard right now and you need to regather your strength. Avoid too much stimulation, either physical or emotional. Avoid getting stuck in here – you have to go out sometimes and do a bit even if you don’t feel like it, but aim for bite sized portions and give yourself leave to back off and take a break.
* Acceptance – Once the mind has reoriented to the change we have a new pattern of seeing the world and behaving installed. We have accepted the change and processed how we need to change as a result. We accept that this is as it is and we feel at peace. Hopefully this is the end of the journey, but often times it is a temporary reprieve as we realise that there is more to process. Don’t be disheartened, it is natural to bounce between feelings.
Each of these is a stage. One can experience multiple stages together and frequently we will revisit stages. Each is important in processing the external change that has occurred and how we will internally change as a result.
We don’t have to be alone in this. We can talk to others. If experiencing significant difficulties with any stage or the whole process, seek professional help. Why have them all trained up and not used? Seeking professional help is a sign of wisdom, not weakness.
It is a mistake to think that because you know these stages it will be easier. No, the emotions are just as deep, the pain just as sore, the feeling of being lost just as acute. It is a hard journey. Knowing these stages exist and are likely to be travelled helps us see that we are progressing, or recognise why we are doing what we are doing. It helps us to feel less like we have lost control and see that we are in fact making our way to the change we need to make to adapt to this new world we find ourselves in.