In a society that values strength, how do we deal with an emotion as vulnerable as grief? Licensed psychologist Robin Walsh says that there are seven stages.
First, shock and denial – numbing and disbelief; numbing keeps a person from being too overwhelmed. This stage can last for weeks.
Second, pain and/or guilt- shock goes away and is replaced by unbelievable pain. During this stage, Walsh says it is important to go ahead and feel the pain fully.
“If the person avoids it or hides it with alcohol or drugs they’ll most likely get stuck here. This stage can be really scary and the person may have a lot of trouble keeping up with regular activities and work,” says Walsh.
Third, anger — releasing of the emotion that has been held in: “Why me?” Walsh cautions people to be careful during this stage, because they are very likely to lash out at loved ones, and there can be damage to relationships.
Fourth, depression 0- this is when people are thinking you should be moving on with your life.
“This can last a long time and the person can’t be talked out of it as people may expect,” explains Walsh. “Encouragement from others is most helpful during this stage. This is the stage when the loss is fully realized — emptiness and despair. People may isolate themselves on purpose during this stage, as it is difficult to enjoy life or usual pleasures during this time.”
Fifth, turnaround — adjust to life without the loved one.
“Life becomes more calm and depression is lifted — it improves, at least,” says Walsh.
Sixth, working through — start finding realistic solutions to problems of life without the person.
“This is the ‘putting pieces back together’ stage,” explains Walsh.
Seventh, acceptance/hope — accepts reality of situation. This is when people start to look forward and plan for future things again. The pain has lessened.
“It is important to note that these steps may not occur in a 1, 2, 3, 4 order and people may also get stuck and go in a reverse order. Often, anniversaries can make a person revert to a precious stage,” says Walsh.
Many that have recently been though their own grieving process report that while in the depths of despair rarely does one really ask for what they need. It is suggested that — if you know a person well enough — don’t ask them to call for help with the kids or tell them to ‘let me know’ if there’s a night to bring food. Just show up instead with the food and drop it off and just say what night you’ll pick up both ends of carpool from soccer practice.
Walsh cautions not to tell someone “I understand” during their times of grief. Instead she recommends asking, “How are you doing?” It’s also appropriate to let them know, “I’m thinking about you,” but refrain from telling about the losses in your own life.
“Your own anxiety may make you want to do this and it may seem really natural, but it doesn’t show empathy to the person who just experienced the loss. The most important thing you do is say little and listen a lot. The key to helping the person feel better is listening to them so they know you care — keep the person on the grieving person,” Walsh explains. “If they don’t want to talk — that’s okay and a good time to say, ‘I’m here,’ or, ‘I’m thinking about you’.”
A Healthy Albany, written by Kristen Taylor.