(or maybe 4 or 17 or 26)
The one thing I’ve become most certain of is that no one can ever completely understand the exact process of grief that another individual experiences. No matter how similar the type of loss, even if 2 people have experienced the loss of the same person in their lives, each person’s experience is different. In my work with grieving clients, I strive to help them understand their process, and experience it in a way that allows them to achieve a feeling of acceptance and healing.
The amount of time it takes is unique to each individual. Some aspects that factor into this are the intensity of the loss, the stages, the timeline and the support they have from others. My responsibility is to help navigate the different stages and develop an understanding of what this loss means to them in the short-term and the long run. The end goal is to arrive at the final ‘stage’ of the process, generally called ‘acceptance’. I like to see it as ‘getting on with life’ in a way that integrates the changes as they become a part of the new ‘life after loss’ for each person.
As I’ve worked with grieving clients over the past 25 years, I’d discovered something about the grief process: there isn’t one. There are many. But there is one thing that is common in every process – something or someone has been lost to us.
The good news is that we’ve all gone through some form of the process many times throughout our lives, often without even being aware of it. Think over a day or a week that has felt, in hindsight, like a very difficult one. How many things do you remember ‘losing’ during that time? Maybe your car keys, or a missed opportunity at work, or a lunch you were looking forward to with an old friend but was cancelled due to illness. These experiences all afford us the chance to ‘practice grieving’, probably with a low amount of stress and in a short time frame. When the larger life losses occur, whether loss of a job, destruction of our home, or death of a loved one, we have experience that will allow us to move through our process with some measure of awareness that we can, indeed, survive most anything life hands us.
Consider this example, using Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief: shock/denial, anger, bargaining, sadness/depression, and acceptance. You’re driving to work. You’re late for an important meeting. Suddenly another driver darts in front of you, causing you to swerve and miss your exit. Your first response may be shock – “I can’t believe that jerk did that!” Anger may follow very closely, even simultaneously. You then realize your mistake of leaving home late, and ‘bargain’ with yourself to leave on time from now on. You start to calm down, realizing you may have lost the respect of your boss or peers because you’ve been inconsiderate of their time. That’s troubling, but you also know you need to get to work, so you quickly move into problem-solving mode. You adjust and continue your trip to work – the acceptance phase.
So – how long did that take? 5 seconds – maybe 20 seconds? But it’s the whole process. Understanding the process can sometimes ease the fear of not being able to get through your grief. The loss can be negligible, so minor you don’t even recognize it as a loss, but it may also be one that has a major and permanent impact on your life.
Many experiencing a loss will wonder when it’s time to seek professional help. We may ask ourselves, “Am I crazy? Is this normal? Should it take this long, or feel this bad?” The other important factor I’ve discovered is the need for a good support system. Having people in your life who are willing to work through the process with you, walking alongside without judgment or expectation, to provide what help they can, is of great benefit to the grieving. Sometimes, however, you may feel you need an experienced professional. You may feel you are stuck in one stage, or unable to navigate the process with the resources you are currently using.
As your therapist, it would be an honor and privilege to assist you on this journey to a place of healing and peace.