The five stages of grief
For the past four months I have been living with the effects of losing a loved one.
Last November, my mother passed away after a four-year-long battle with breast cancer, and it was the most devastating, heart-wrenching, life-altering experience I have ever encountered in my 23 years.
While deep inside I had known this was coming for about a year, nothing could have fully prepared me for the loss of a parent.
After the funeral, my grief progressed through a series of stages.
It is important that students know and understand these stages, for in the event of death, one can easily become isolated as a result of their actions during grief; this can be severely detrimental to one’s mental health.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross conducted a study that led to her development of the five basic stages of grief.
According to Kübler-Ross, the majority of people who suffer a loss will experience these stages; I know this is true because in some way or another, they all affected me.
The first stage is denial.
The reality that the person is actually gone does not set in for several weeks, and you continue to go about your daily life as if nothing has changed.
You either refer to the person in the present, as though he or she is still with you, or avoid the topic altogether, not addressing his or her absence from your life.
The second stage is anger, where you either become internally angry with yourself or express the emotion towards those around you.
This is the stage where it appears as though the one grieving is pushing everyone away; however, I know from experience that this is not true. It is actually a cry for help and comfort, done so in a less obvious manner.
I turned towards blaming myself and questioning whether I had spent enough time with my mother during her last months.
I also became angry with myself for not calling every day or visiting more often while living away from home; this guilt is not something that goes away easily and it still haunts me today. I tried to push everyone away, acting strong in the presence of family and friends and breaking down when alone.
The third stage is bargaining, where one tries to reason with what has happened. A person in this stage tries to make sense of why the event happened and can question what he or she did wrong to deserve this grief. This stage neither helps nor hinders the grieving process, it is merely another way a person attempts to come to terms with their current reality.
The fourth stage is depression. This usually sets in a couple of months after the death of your loved one; it is when you finally come to terms with the reality of the situation.
The sleepless, tear-filled nights return; everything you see reminds you in some way of that person.
This can prompt a mental breakdown, and your mood swings can send you from blissfully happy to very upset within a matter of minutes, several times a day. During this stage, you also begin to question the purpose of life, your goals and your future, and what they all mean without that person.
I found it especially hard to face the thought of doing the things my mother wanted me to do, but without her, and began drawing blanks about my future. This stage often lasts until you fully recover from your grief.
The final stage of grief is acceptance.
This is when the individual must find a way to live with his or her grief and function normally every day. It varies depending on the person and the situation and how one feels he or she must deal with what has happened.
This is something I have not yet been able to do, and I am not sure when exactly it will happen.
I have found ways to temporarily cope with grief, such as taking action for cancer research, organizing fundraisers for breast cancer and participating in the Weekend to End Breast Cancer walk; however, my default coping mechanism remains to be “break down in tears” in the darkness of my room where nobody can see.
While trying to avoid the issue of death and the reality of the situation completely is often what most people do it, it can be even worse than addressing your grief head on.
People may interpret your lack of tears as a sign of maturity or that you are simply adjusting well; however, this is usually not the case.
While you may appear fine on the outside, you are probably screaming on the inside.
Just know that you are not alone in your grief, and do not be afraid, as I was and sometimes still am, to show people that you are sad.
Expression can be the best coping mechanism.