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How to Cope with Grief, Loss and Bereavement
For as long as humans have existed, grief has been a melancholy shadow, always present in the background.
When grief takes centerstage in your life, it can be difficult to do anything but dwell on the tragedy. The emotional burden following a tragic event is difficult to surmount, but it is possible considering the amazing resiliency people throughout history have shown during difficult times.
Before delving into different ways that you can deal with your grief, it is important to look at what grief is, and how it manifest in people’s behavior.
Early Models of Grief
Sigmund Freud was one of the first psychologists to begin analyzing grief as well as pioneering the study of mourning.
Within the last 30 years, different models of grief have been developed and scrutinized.
The Two-Track Model of Bereavement, created by Simon Shimshon Rubin in 1981, is a grief theory that provided more focus on the actual grieving process. The model examines the long-term effects of bereavement by measuring how well the bereaved person is adapting to the loss of a loved one. The main objective of the Two-Track Model of Bereavement is for the individual to accept living in a world that the recently deceased is absent from.
Track One focuses on the anxiety, depression, somatic concerns, traumatic responses, familial relationships, interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, work, and investment in life tasks. The second track focuses on the ongoing relationship you have with the deceased.
Kubler-Ross 5 Stage Model of Grief
The Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief, is a theory first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.
This model for grief has become the most popular method for dealing with grief within mainstream psychology. The model describes in five distinct stages how people deal with grief and tragedy. Such events might include being diagnosed with a terminal illness or enduring a tragedy.
The five stages are:
The stages within the model are all part of the framework that helps people learn to live their lives without a loved one. The Kubler-Ross model holds that the stages are not stops on a linear time line of grief, and that not everyone goes through all of the stages, nor in a prescribed order. Both the 5 stage and the 2 track model for grief emphasize that the grief someone can expect correlates with type of relationship they had with the recently deceased.
Considerations for the Bereaved
When you or somebody you love is experiencing sorrow and grief, it is important to realize that everybody reacts differently.
The majority of criticism for the previous grief models relates to the fact that one model does not fit every person. Elisabeth Ross tried making wiggle room to accommodate for this by including that the grief model is not a linear time-line of grief, and that not everyone goes through all of the stages, nor in a prescribed order. This difficulty in defining grief is because everybody reacts differently to tragedy based on a multitude of different factors.
If we are to understand grief through the lens of the aforementioned grief models, we would know that the response to grief is based on the type of relationship you had with the recently deceased. Since everyone had a different and unique relationship with the decedent, then it makes sense that everybody responds differently to their passing.
The Many Complexities of Grief
Death is never an easy pill to swallow for surviving friends and family members of the decedent.
The many complexities of death invoke a similarly wide spectrum of complicated emotions. This complexity can be illustrated in the family members left in the wake of a family member overdosing from drugs.
The idea that the death was preventable often leads to feelings of guilt for not doing more. Guilt can also emerge from feeling like you might have made their addiction worse through your words and actions. Some people feel guilty if the death brings a sense of relief after years of addiction negatively impacting family and friends. Just from this one example, it shows just how many variations of an emotion can accompany grief. The shape shifting nature of grief needs to be considered when recovering from a stressful or tragic situation in life. Grief will pass, however extra time might be necessary to process everything that surfaces alongside the grief and pain.
Comparing Yourself to Others
We all have a bad tendency to compare ourselves to others. This habit is particularly good at manifesting during times of great emotional stress.
It is unfair to compare your response to a tragedy to another family member or friends’ response. Everyone has their own struggles in life, and everyone has different coping mechanism to deal with these hurdles. It is curious how your own mind will turn against you, and your inner voice takes on a tone of self-loathing.
Seeing other family members move on from the tragedy while you are still grieving is not unusual. This can make you feel isolated in your grief, but you must realize that you do not know the full story of how other people are feeling internally despite how they appear on the outside. You might be surprised by how good people are at appearing happy and holding it together on the outside, when internally they might be falling apart at the seams. For these reasons, you should be gentle with yourself. The timeline for recovering from grief is different for everybody. You should not let your lingering grief open the flood gates up to self-judgement.
Embracing the Pain
At the root of all the grief models is forgiveness and embracing the pain of tragedy and death.
Paired with the advice of these models is the consensus of independent research from therapist and psychologist that tackling the problems you are facing is the most effective way to reduce grief and resolve underlying problems you are facing.
Research has shown the benefits of cathartic releases of pent up emotions, granted it is done in a safe way. Overwhelming grief can make even the toughest individuals lose sight of their own well-being. The ability to directly address your feelings, thoughts, and emotional state is vital in working through them.
This is easier said than done, which is why it is highly encouraged that you talk about your grief with:
- A therapist or grief counselor
- Surrounding family & friends
- Online grief forums
The stigma around mental heath has been decreasing dramatically in the last ten years as more awareness and education about the topic is spotlighted in the media. Talking with family and friends who are experiencing the same loss can help strengthen your relationship and alleviate feelings of being alone in your grief. Therapists have been professionally trained to help you work through difficulties that you are facing in a safe and empathetic environment. Don’t let possible judgement from family and friends prevent you from seeking outside help. If they are truly your friends and family, they should actually encourage you to seek help from a licensed therapist.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life
Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.
Hopefully, through open communication and forgiveness, you can navigate through grief and find happiness again.
By investigating effective grief models, and common approaches to grief used by therapists, you should feel more confident in knowing that to eventually overcome any problem in life you have to confront it openly, honestly, and patiently.
About the Author
Sarah Giavanio is Assistant Marketing Director of Safe Passage Urns, a company dedicated to providing unique, one-of-a-kind cremation urns to memorialize the ashes of a loved one. Sarah works directly with funeral homes that Safe Passage Urns is partnered with, and also provides people with effective funeral planning information.