The 5 Stages of Grief
Definition of grief: “Grief is a natural response to loss. It's the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness”.
In 1969, a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did a study on grief and loss. Upon completion of her study she wrote a book entitled “On Death and Dying”, and introduced the five stages of grief:
“Denial is a cognitive process that is an attempt to alter our experience of unwanted or unacceptable emotions. We can use denial to hide from any negative emotion, including shame, fear, guilt, or distress”. Denial will generate feelings of disbelieve and numbness. Though denial is not a healthy place to get stuck in, it does play a helpful role at the very beginning of the traumatic loss, it gives the mind time to absorb what has occurred, thereby keeping the pet-parent from going into an emotional descent. During denial, some people do experience physical symptoms such as nausea, high anxiety, difficulty with concentrating and sleeping. Denial is the initial stage of grief and can be present for the first 24 to 48 hours after a loss. If denial lasts for more than a week, it is advisable to seek professional help.
After the denial subsides, some people struggle with deep feelings of anger. The anger could be aimed at yourself, the veterinarian or anyone who took part in the animal’s care, you may also unexpectedly find yourself angry at your pet for dying and leaving you. It is important to acknowledge during this particular stage that your reactions are being fuelled by grief and therefore are most likely irrational. You are stressed, physically and emotionally exhausted and in deep pain. Once the anger subsides take a deep breath and give yourself permission to continue with your grief journey.
Grief can leave you feeling out of control and powerless. You are being plagued with thoughts of “what if and if only”. In an attempt to reclaim your control, you begin to bargain with yourself. In addition to gaining your control, bargaining also delays the overwhelming sadness, turmoil and pain.
Often in this stage you may find yourself wanting to be alone, quietly attempting to unravel the upheaval of your loss. Though this stage is quieter and calmer, it is no less painful. You may find yourself crying frequently, overly sensitive and thereby easily triggered to emotional outbursts. Your appetite may either lessen or increase, likewise with your sleeping patterns. It is important to give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling in the moment, to surround yourself with loving family and friends. However, if you find yourself stuck, not being able to move on, overly secure in your isolation, again, it is advisable to seek professional help.
You are still missing your pet, however at this stage you are beginning to give yourself permission to accept the loss and consider your future without your pet. You will also find that you are able to remember your pet with more joy and less sadness. You are still going through your grief journey, but you are noticing that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.
Through much of the grief journey you may also find yourself entangled in a web of unrelenting guilt, sadly it does often play a leading role. For more on guilt, please refer to my blog “Knocking Down the Wall of Guilt”.
Please note that you may not experience all 5 stages, as well, there is no specific order in which they occur. You may be in denial and a few days later be in depression, then a week later into anger and suddenly back into depression, a week later feeling so much better, two days later you hit the wall and again dealing with anger. This disruptive rollercoaster of emotions is the playbook of the grief journey.
Grief is complicated, painful and extremely difficult. There are no simple answers of “do this or do that”. Everyone’s grief journey is different. Do not compare, do not put judgment or pressure on yourself. This is not a relay race; this is an emotional climb out of a dark and lonely pit. Be kind to yourself.
You do not need to go through this grief journey alone; I am available for online appointments conducted with your health and privacy in mind.
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