Just remember: your grief is as unique as you are. – David Kessler
I am not an expert in grief. Certainly not. But I ended up reading about the subject and going through a good deal of grief in my life. Since when I was a little girl and experienced the death of my grandfather or when, also in my childhood, I lost a few pets and had to deal with it. The list goes on as it does with all the human beings, I guess.
As time passed, I realized that grief is not something you feel only when someone you love die. The death of a loved one is a significant cause of stress in anyone’s life and that’s how we associate the grief feeling but that is certainly not the only occasion we experience it in our lives. We also grieve significant changes in our lives – the end of a relationship, the move to a new neighborhood, city or even country, the change in job and so many other occasions.
I like to think of life as a way to administer the longing – or ‘saudades’, using a dear word from my mother tongue, Portuguese. We are always missing something, someone, some place, and even some stages of our lives that will never come back. And, many times, more than one thing, person, job, and place at the same time. In fact, we are grieving these things, moments and loved ones constantly.
I know, it sounds exhausting. But we do as almost on a cruise control sort of way. Another way of thinking on our constant grieving is to realize that we move to another place because we believe it will be better for us, or change jobs also because we think this will be important to our career, than it is easy to understand that these little acts of grief in our daily lives will easily go without being noticed.
Loosing a loved one is not that subtle and we end up having to go through the grief. But, what is grief? Wikipedia says that “grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions.”
It is complicated and the first person to map this multifaceted response to loss was Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying, 1969. Called ‘the five stages of grief’, this theory describes the stages how people deal with grief and tragedy and they are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It would be nice if we could orderly line these feelings and stages but, in fact, the grief looks more or less like this:
The stages mix themselves and come and go in a complete mess – there is no way we can say what is coming next. In fact, not everyone goes through all of them. In my story, for example, a good deal of grief happened as soon as Ricardo was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. For more than two years, I had to deal with my grief while he was still here with us. It was weird and painful – some sort of ‘preparatory grief’. After he passed, I still had some grieving to go through – and I still have – but they were not as painful and certainly not as long. The acceptance stage came faster than if it was an accident and I didn’t have the time to prepare myself.
David Kessler is one of the world’s foremost experts on healing and loss. He is the author of five bestseller books and co-authored two books with the legendary Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving and Life Lessons. I am a big fan of David Kessler and I suggest you visit The Five Stages of Grief, where he goes through each one of them. I also mentioned him when I wrote about The Rights of the Dying, his first book and one that I enjoyed immensely.
“The stages have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives”, David Kessler explains.