Grief is like a fingerprint.
In spite of wanting to avoid it for as long as we can, grief is one of the journey’s in life that will eventually visit each and every one of us. Until it does, many do not want to know about grief, hear about it, let alone prepare for it.
How does one even know they are grieving? The truth is, that many of us are in full blown grief right now and are not even aware of it. During the past two years we have all experienced an unprecedented type of loss. The loss of a loved one is not the only pre-requisite to be in a state of grieving.
Teachers over the years have provided us with so many road maps in life and business. What often drives us to search out and use these formulas is pain. Hence we search for the formulas that have been proven, or some not, on how to get out of the state of suffering, in to a more empowering and joyful state.
Prior to the introduction of the five stages of grief, which were created by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, many experiencing loss would not have understood what was happening for them, or that their feelings were normal. Instead, in spite of intense inner mourning, their belief was most likely to not show any emotion, or to ‘just get on with it’.
The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. By simply putting a name to each of these stages has given mankind with the permission to stop and acknowledge their loss, instead of avoiding it. To express ones feelings, either privately or publicly, is encouraged without judgement.
Whilst we are all so unique and their order is not always set in stone, the stages provide some knowledge and a road map on what to expect next. To have a written path during a time when your world has been turned upside down is helpful, not only for the one at the centre of the loss, but also for family and friends.
Supporting someone else through their grief can feel so uncomfortable that all you want to do yourself is bolt from the scene. To have an understanding that their grief response, (and yours), is normal, will enable everyone involved to be present. Grief is not something that can be fixed, but simply acknowledged and worked through.
Travelling along the road called grief is like none you have ever travelled before. At the start line, looking beyond the horizon it feels like the longest road. In goes well beyond the horizon with no clear end point, as you have never walked this road before.
It takes courage to commence the journey, as the final destination is unknown. Knowing you have the five stages of grief as your signs along the way, somehow the road seems softer. As each sign is reached, you not only feel a sense of relief and comfort, but you may also be closer to having greater clarity on what you want your new destination in life to look like.
The first of these road signs is denial. Denial is usually followed closely behind the state of shock. You have just received the diagnosis. You have just had the phone call to advise that your loved one is no longer breathing.
Even though you are shown the evidence, to believe this news it too painful to endure. There is no way you will accept this and for now the easiest, softest way is to emotionally remove yourself from the scene.
Denial can be a beautiful place when you are unable to emotionally or physically cope with reality. If however, one remains there for too long, one could remain so stuck that their own precious life may be wasted.
The personal suffering during this phase of denial is intense. Many feel there is no alternative but to remain in denial as they do not believe they could possibly survive if they faced the reality of their loss. The truth is that yes you can, and many have done so before you.
The surest way past the pain, is to go through it. Make the decision to move through this phase of denial, believing that you have what it takes to do so. You may briefly return at a later date, however for now you are moving past, until to arrive at the next road sign.
What part of myself do I need to awaken?
The next sign is big, red and written with huge capital letters. You are so angry, you want to scream and throw and destroy everything around you. You want to shout at every person whom you see with a smile on their face. “Don’t you know what is going on in my life? How dare you be so happy in front of me!”
Whether grieving or not, many feel uncomfortable in allowing themselves to feel or show anger. It’s not the right way to behave. Good girls don’t feel anger. Men are violent if they show anger.
If only we were told that if we sat long enough with our anger, we would discover that its real name was sadness and grief. Feel the anger, then let it go. It may return and that is OK, however, not feeling the anger or projecting it on to others or self-harming is not healthy.
The stage of anger can be exhausting. Be gentle with yourself in between each bout of anger and keep going as you quietly, and often depleted, arrive at your next sign on the road.
Please God, please anyone out there who is listening, no! Please no! I will do anything for this not to be true. I will give all of my possessions away, I will live in poverty, I will do whatever is asked of me for this not to be true.
It feels like no one is listening, however you continue to manoeuvre your way around the pain.
Moments turn into days, days turn into weeks, it’s all been a blur. The people who have been around to support you have lives to get back to. You are now alone, and as you gently come out of the haze you are once again faced with the reality that yes, this did happen.
It is true, and you see the next sign ahead, however you don’t want to go there. You continue to bargain, back and forth, and by doing so, could remain stuck for longer than necessary.
Now is the perfect time to seek help from a professional. They would help break your current pattern of thinking and behaving. They would walk beside you as you find hope, all of which would reduce your time at the next stop, if you choose to remain there at all.
The big black sign. The sign with no light, with no hope. You finally feel what is beneath the denial, what is beneath the screaming anger, what is beneath the bargaining. It is pure, gut wrenching sadness.
The darkness at times feels as though it takes your breath away. The loneliness is so terrifying, you have no idea who you are anymore. You overeat. You binge drink. You gamble your life savings away. You do anything to take away the pain of this black hole.
The pain and uncertainty is so great you begin to think you have no choice but to not be here anymore. Until that one day when you see a flicker of light, and you do make a choice.
You say no to the suffering and you say yes to you. You say no to the darkness and you say yes to the light. You decide, possibly with the help of a professional, to get back up again.
You decide to move forward because somewhere you know there is a meaning for all of this, even though you don’t quite know it yet. The main thing is that in that moment of lightness you have made a decision to move, with hope, towards the next sign.
Surrender. You are out of puff. You have nothing else left to throw, your voice is hoarse and your body is hurting from the long journey on this road called grief. Whilst you may not yet understand why you were led down this road, you have accepted you are on it.
You may not yet see where this road will lead you, however now you are willing to do whatever it takes to stay on it, trusting that soon clarity and meaning will come. Each step taken, each day completed, is a triumph.
Each day leads you closer to the light, and you believe that, no matter what, you will continue to place one foot in front of the other, and see what eventuates.
The tools and strategies you have learned on this road called grief have led you to this sign called acceptance. A place of resting, reflection, discovery of what next, and at times, even revisiting past signs.
Some may see these five stages of grief and the road ahead wondering how long it will take and this alone makes you not even want to begin the process. There is no stopping grief, and sooner or later the feelings of loss will surface with no certainty of intensity or length. At least begin the journey.
It may not be a straight line. You may find yourself jumping from one stage to another. It may be that one day you feel you have completed the five stage course with flying colours then the next moment you find yourself on the floor in tears.
At least now if anger, denial, or any other emotions resurface, you can greet them, knowing them by name, and trusting yourself to see them through until they pass.
The ultimate destination is to open yourself up to life again. It was for me, sooner rather than later. Yes at times it may feel uncomfortable, you may even feel guilty for doing so.
Get used to discomfort, welcome it and build that muscle of resilience as you move through this grief journey. How you do one thing in your life is how you do everything. Imagine taking this personal certainty learned with you into other areas of your life?
Life is a series of challenges, sorrow and difficulties, and in between are the timely moments of beauty, joy and happiness. Our life lesson is to accept this dance, knowing that no matter how deep the grief, we have what it takes to get through it and more importantly, the willingness to get through it. We still see life as beautiful and worth living.
If you find yourself unable to keep up the dance, or, a lack of willingness to even try, then now would be the time to seek professional assistance. There is no judgment when it comes to grief. One does not have to hit rock bottom before you openly ask for help.
No matter how long it takes, open yourself up to life again. During each wave of discomfort, remain curious, unapologetic and playful about your feelings.
Life is worth living, and this is what your dearly departed would want for you, just as you would for them. It begins with a decision.
Just like your fingerprint, this journey is uniquely yours.
Words by Tanya Unkovich
Published Author, Speaker, Personal Mentor and Coach
B.Com. C.A. ICF. Dip. Counseling,
Certified Life Coach and Therapist
Member International Coaching Federation
Next book to be published 2022 :
“From Grief to Greatness, the Art of Overcoming Adversity”.