Lessons in Loss: What We Can Learn from Grief

A sad young couple embraces and holds each other, faces hidden, on a park benchDealing with grief and loss is a reality we all must confront at some point. The experience of grief is different for everyone, and it has no timetable. Grieving, however, is a necessary part of the coping and healing processes.

The recent death of a friend’s son has created within me a vision of the world through which only the lenses of my eyes can see and the beat of my heart can feel. His death has inspired the desire and passion to live my best life every day while giving service to others. This could have easily gone the opposite way, leading to feelings of utter isolation, depression, and loneliness.

For all the pain it brings, grief holds many lessons:

  • Grief teaches us that loss is inevitable.
  • Grief teaches us not to take loved ones for granted.
  • Grief teaches us about our faith.
  • Grief teaches us to be patient.
  • Grief teaches us that we should live every day creating memories that will comfort us after our loved ones are gone.
  • Grief teaches us about our feelings.
  • Grief teaches us that it is necessary to grieve. It allows us to move forward.
  • Grief teaches us to find our purpose in life.
  • Grief teaches us that pain and joy can coexist.
  • Grief teaches us to be true to ourselves.

What has your grief taught you?

The Kübler-Ross Model of Grief

Loss can leave us with a wide range of emotions. The experience of each emotion signals that a deep bond has been broken. One day we may be in denial, anger, or depression. Other days, we might feel like we can go on. Until, that is, the cycle starts all over again.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what came to be known as the “five stages of grief,” which represent the typical series of experiences for those who have faced loss:

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  1. Denial: “This isn’t happening.”
  2. Anger: “How could this happen?”
  3. Bargaining: “Please make this not happen. In return I will ___.”
  4. Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  5. Acceptance: “I’m finally at peace with what happened.”

As stated earlier, each person experiences grief in different ways. Thus, it’s important to emphasize that while the Kübler-Ross model serves as a general guide for how grief is often processed, not everyone experiencing grief or loss may experience every stage, let alone in order.

How to Help a Grieving Friend

If someone you know has lost a loved one, the following suggestions may help:

  • Listen: Follow the advice of musician Michael McLean. When someone is grieving, “show up and shut up.” The grief-stricken person needs to be heard and feel that someone cares. Grief is a personal experience, an experience that belongs solely to the person experiencing it, and you must allow them the respect and time they deserve. Listening to someone who grieves is an invaluable gift.
  • Be a gatekeeper: In an intensely painful and overwhelming time, offer to be the person through which information is filtered for dissemination. You may find that other friends, family members, and acquaintances ask for information about your friend. Normalize grief with responses such as, “They have good days and bad days—and probably will for a long time.” Or, “Grief never really ceases. It is something you carry with you in different ways for the rest of your life.”

Getting Support for Grief

The grieving process can be long and lonely. If you are grieving, take the time you need, meet any challenging emotions that arise within you with self-compassion, and accept support from others. Talking about grief is an important part of healing. Receiving reassurance and feeling empathy expressed for your loss may help make the recovery process seem a little less daunting. If you need or desire further support, I strongly encourage you to contact a licensed therapist who works with grief and loss.

References:

  1. Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families. New York: Macmillan.
  2. McLean, M. (n.d.). Hoping. Retrieved from http://www.michaelmcleanmusic.com/page/47/

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jacqueline D Pearce, MSEd., LMHC, therapist in Rockville Centre, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 12 comments
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  • Sonia J

    October 12th, 2016 at 11:21 AM

    Grief is forever. I am so glad to have you as my friend…gatekeeper.

  • Kerry

    October 13th, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    This is a very thoughtful piece on grief. Not only for the person suffering from loss, but also for the many friends and family who want to be there for them. Personally, I find it difficult to know how to deal with a person going through grief. What do I say to make it better? What can I do? How do I give them enough space to grieve, but not let the grief take over them? The listening, I believe, is the key. Everyone wants to be heard, to let out their fears and disappoints. We can’t make anyone better with words. It is our actions, like simply listening, that can help our loved ones through a difficult time. Thank you for writing this!

  • Bill

    October 14th, 2016 at 6:06 AM

    Why is it that we all know that death is one of those inevitable parts of life but then we are so surprised when it happens to someone that we love?
    I think that there should be a way that we could get more prepared for it, knowing that it is going to happen, but I guess that in some ways there is no way that you could ever prepare for losing someone that you love so much.
    I have been through it many times, and there have been times that it seemed like such a blessing that the pain was finally over for this person and then there have been times when it felt like the life was cut far too short.
    Allowing yourself to go through the entire grief process though and not suppressing nay of that, so much healthier than trying to be stoic and moving on. There is a reason and a purpose to the process, so allow yourself to experience it.

  • Rose

    October 14th, 2016 at 11:27 AM

    We can all be selfish and even knowing that this is better for the person who was hurting does not make it any easier for us here on earth without them.

  • JC

    October 14th, 2016 at 12:12 PM

    Very well explained and informative. Grieving is a very hard and sad topic to discuss. Allowing the grieving person to grief in his/her own time is one of the best course of action.

  • Heather

    October 14th, 2016 at 1:56 PM

    What an inspiring and informative article, happy to know that you and others can find the strength and bravery to write about a topic that myself and others constantly try to elude because the word “death” alone brings on instant depression. Many of us question ourselves about why we even exist or have children. The thought of death causes me to worry, which in turn triggers my headaches and transforms me into an angry person. I become angry because I know I am powerless and cannot prevent death from invading my world; even angrier by the realization that I cannot resurrect a dead love one. We need to continue this thread because it is powerful enough to help someone who is broken by the passing of a loved one, after all, we know that there is strength in numbers.

  • Jo

    October 15th, 2016 at 12:57 AM

    This is good, but I’d also like to highlight the fact that the grieving process isn’t always connected to loss through death. But this seems to be the only experience ever spoken about. Other loss can be devastating and even more difficult to understand, and it would be good to see that acknowledged and written about more often.

  • Leisl

    October 15th, 2016 at 6:21 AM

    Eventually this too shall pass but only if you do allow yourself to really go through and process all of the steps that grief will leave behind. There will be sorrow, there will be anger, and there will be denial… and if you let yourself fully feel and experience all these things, eventually there can be sunshine in your life again. I am not saying that it will happen quickly but there will come a peace about that loss that makes coping with it all just a little bit easier.

  • Heather

    October 15th, 2016 at 6:24 AM

    Thank you for reminding us of the silver lining that comes with grief. For those who are caught up in the depression and anger stages, it’s very easy to overlook the lessons that we learn about ourselves through mourning.

  • peyton

    October 17th, 2016 at 10:13 AM

    Several years after losing my dad to cancer I started to have all of these angry feelings like why was he taken and not someone else. It didn’t make any sense until I understood that because at the time I did not let myself grieve. I felt like I had to stay so strong for my mother that I did not give myself the chance to experience the same kinds of things that me being there for her allowed her to do.

    I didn’t have the breakdown, I didn’t’ cry all because I did not want her to see that happening for her sake. I had to stay strong for her. And eventually that all had to come out and come to the surface because I needed those same chances to process my own hurt and feelings.

  • Judy

    October 17th, 2016 at 7:08 PM

    Wow! This is a very informative article! Grief is indeed an individual experience. The important lesson to really keep in mind when we try to help a friend, and loves one is this: While there is much we may share in common with our friends and love ones, we also need to respect the uniqueness of that individual’s experiences of loss and grief. We are likely to mourn, or cope with grief, in personal ways. I appreciate this article!

  • Francis

    October 18th, 2016 at 2:12 PM

    You will definitely learn not to take others for granted quite so much when you have loved and lost someone close to you.

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