Recently a person that I have in my life lost someone close to them and it reminded me of how human beings move through grief and loss.

Grief and loss has been researched for decades. One of the most popular and widely accepted approaches to understanding this topic comes from a book written by Kubler-Ross, which presents that there are five stages to the grieving process. They are as follows: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance.

You do not necessarily move through these in a linear fashion or in any particular order; the process of grieving is such an individual and personal process, that people differ in how long they spend in any particular stage, and at times, may experience two or more stages at the same time. Grief and loss also hit us in waves, so you may be calm one moment and then a memory is triggered and an emotional wave hits you. This is considered normal and part of the process.

Denial in grief and loss is exactly that, not believing that a person died, that you have lost something in your life, that the job is gone, that your plans will never come to fruition. Remember that grief and loss is not just when someone dies; this can apply to any situation or circumstance where you had something and then you don’t. Denial can be thought of as a way that your brain is trying to keep you safe from the intense emotional pain and/or shock that comes with this event of loss. You may feel numb, you may have people asking you if you are ok since you may not be displaying the expected emotions that someone would see. It does not mean something is wrong with you, it just means that you may be in this phase of the process.

Bargaining is another part of the defense mechanisms that come up when moving through grief. It is a way to gain control over what has happened, because it may feel very much outside of your control. It can look like a lot of “what if” thoughts, or beating up on yourself, or making deals with God so you can feel relief from the pain you are in.

Anger may come next, an emotion that is normal for human beings to express. When it gets out of control, as with any other emotion, then that is when it becomes problematic. Anger is many times a mask for other feelings and emotions that may be too overwhelming to show. You may be angry with the person that died, or the event that took place, or yourself.

Depression is a deep sadness that may go along with any of these steps. Remember, this process does not have a particular order it needs to go in. It can be in any order that it presents for the individual. It can feel overwhelming, it can feel like physical pain, it can come and go without you understanding why. You may not want to get dressed, or shower, or get out of bed.

Finally, there is acceptance. Acceptance does not mean you accept what happened. It means that you have come to a place of accepting that your life will never be the way it was; that there is a new normal. There are a few instances in my life where I can recall an event that was marked by this reality- the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and when COVID came into our lives. I think that there is much to still move through as a society where perhaps many of us are still grieving the loss of the lives we used to live before the pandemic and before 9/11.

So what helps through this process? Well, things that replenish us and heal us help us get through this process. Honoring your thoughts and feelings instead of pushing them away. Getting closer to our spiritual place, whatever that may look like for you. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of prayer. Nature is also very spiritual, and here in the great state of Montana, we are surrounded by majestic beauty. Leaning on one another helps too. Having grace and kindness with ourselves is extremely important, especially for those of us that are overachievers and “the strong ones.” Acknowledging how something hurts us never removes our strength, it makes our strength stronger.

If you are reading this and this is speaking to you, please know that I send you well wishes and a prayer for your healing process. If you need help moving through this, give a counselor a call. Sometimes it is easier to speak to someone outside of your circle that you don’t know.

If you feel overwhelmed and are thinking about suicide, please reach out to 911, and be aware of the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255 that is staffed 24/7 where you can speak to someone right away.

Take care of yourselves. Marias Healthcare Shelby/ Conrad provides mental health services, including counseling and medication management, for anxiety, depression, addiction and lifestyle changes. Please contact 406-434-3100 to see how we might help you.

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