Last year I lost 4 patients- 3 were elderly souls who, after several years of trying to cope with their failing bodies finally, peacefully passed on with hospice and family support. One was gunned down in his mid life without any reason or warning.
The grief process is dramatically different with these two scenarios- I personally and professionally feel that I am still dealing with the residuals of the ANGER stage of bereavement.
I recently reviewed the well known, accepted and studied 5 Stages of Loss and Grief described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (See www.psychcentral.com) in my own bereavement journey.
One does not necessarily experience these stages in sequence or spend the same amount of time in each but dealing with mourning or significant loss do have these universal themes.
1. DENIAL & ISOLATION– disbelief, shock, confusion, feelings of wanting to escape or deny the bad news is common (I spent a few days in this stage as I personally took in the full scope of the recent San Bernardino shootings)
I stress that during this time try not to lean on unhealthy escape and denial defense mechanisms like alcohol, food, prolonged isolation, etc.
2. ANGER- this phase may overlap or pop up during other phases but is marked with sometimes intense mood swings and lashing out in various ways against the pain of the loss.
In my case most of my anger was directed both verbally and silently towards my spouse. I’m still mad at the unjust deaths but I try to write it out or do a little longer exercise work out to control the negativity.
But any person with radical ideology beware they don’t cross my path during this time. I can feel this coiled up reactive tension that I want to release to any terrorist sympathizers (primitive? immature? YES, but NATURAL
3. BARGAINING– many will start regretting or wishing/praying for change in attempts to gain some sense of control. The ‘what if’s’ or “only If’s’ can seem futile but is a natural stage.
In my case, I felt cheated as the death from a shooting by a radical zealot is nothing one should have to face (Imagine how the families must feel if I feel this way as their doctor!)
4. DEPRESSION– at this the stage most feel very isolated when perhaps they don’t want to be. The overwhelming support has waned, the casseroles that friends and family brought are gone, and one has to try to join back into the fast paced world that seems to have moved on with very little memory.
One knows that to honor the lost loved one you should continue on-but it’s hard to do this. If you find yourself in this phase too long or severe enough that a clinical depression may have set in then reach out, get help.
(see your primary physician, pastor, trusted friend…)
5. ACCEPTANCE- this is probably the most varied and personal stage. It is elusive to some with tragic loss or those who had no time to prepare prior to a loss, but can come over time.
Perhaps, as in my case this stage will come by trying to turn anger and sadness feelings into tangible acts in honor of the lost loved one, or by moving on in your own life with a deeper sense of meaning and understanding of how fleeting and fragile life is…
I often say to my patients -‘You will never get over the loss, but someday you will learn to recognize and accept (not like) the new normal’.
Visually, this may be like a wound that used to weep-bleed-scab, but now shows the permanent mark or scar. The
injured site still functions but it is different now.