Written by Julia Angle of Florida Atlantic University
At some point, we all experience grief: a loved one dies, a relationship ends or another type of loss leaves us devastated. During these moments, we may feel lost, unable to deal with even the simplest aspects of daily life.
How can you attend class, write a term paper, or go to work when even getting out of bed in the morning proves challenging? The purpose of this article is to suggest specific ways to push through the grief by briefly reviewing its five common stages before offering suggestions to not only work through the sorrow, but to harness the power of the pain to move forward.
Five Stages of Grief
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s classic book On Death and Dying (1973), there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The first stage, denial, “functions as a buffer after unexpected shocking news, allows the patient to collect himself, and with time, mobilize other, less radical defenses” (Kübler-Ross, 1973, p. 34). The second stage is anger: accepting reality, yet with an inability to act rationally. Oftentimes, loved ones become the target of such aggression. Bargaining is the third stage. It is less hostile, rather a coping mechanism used to provide hope. The fourth stage is a period of lost hope and sadness; it is depression. During this time, people may search for meaning or question why they should continue at all. Yet it is through the final stage, acceptance, people discover the path forward. The loss is replaced with a ‘new normal.’
While understanding the five stages of grief is important, they are not the reason we persevere. “They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order” (Kessler, 1973, para. 2). Acknowledging and accepting the uniqueness of your grief as well as allowing yourself time to grieve is only half the battle.
The first step in moving forward is to give yourself a deadline of sorts. There is no magic formula or set timeline for grieving. Consider giving yourself three to seven days, but no longer to ‘hide away’ or ‘fall apart.’ Allotting too much time before returning to your normal routine may make it difficult to return to classes, your job and other responsibilities. It is important to note this is an individual decision and represents an initial step and by no means ends your struggle or grief. It may simply assist in accelerating the grieving process.
There will be days when you do not feel like getting up or being an active participant in your own life, but get up anyway. “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up” (Brett, 2010, para. 10). Allow yourself to be sad. It does no good to tell yourself you should not feel sad when you feel sad. “Research on thought suppression has shown trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind” (Halvorson, 2013).
Know you will have good days and bad ones. Surround yourself with friends and family when you can. Seek professional help if needed. Remember there is no race to the finish line because there isn’t one; go at your own pace.
Using the Pain
Once you have climbed out from under the covers, begin to use the pain in positive ways. Turn angry energy into productive projects, including something requiring physical activity such as cleaning out the garage, planting a garden, mowing the lawn, painting a picture, or working out. Transform the sadness into inspiration to write or create a work of art. Do something that “makes you feel strong” (Buckingham, 2015). Identify those activities you look forward to doing and that make time pass quickly. Remind yourself how strong you are, and in time your memories will bring smiles instead of tears. These suggestions only offer some ways to promote the healing process.
Grieving is a normal response to loss, especially when a loved one dies. Eventually, the loss can make you stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate. However,
“the reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 290).
Grief holds no prejudice; it requires no specific age, gender, or race nor does it schedule itself conveniently around our lives. Students may find it especially difficult to focus during a tragedy. Yet perhaps with the use of tips highlighted in this article, they may push through the grief and get back to the task of living.
Brett, R. (2010, April 11). Lesson 46: No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up for life [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blog.cleveland.com/pdextra/2010/04/lesson_46_no_matter_how_you_fe.html
Buckingham, M. (2015, March 26). Re: Trombone player wanted, chapter 2 [Video blog comment]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5hWxKCqabM
Halvorson, H. (2013, June 04). How successful people reach their goals. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzMMj7UUmh0
Kessler, D. (n.d.). The five stages of grief. Retrieved from http://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/
Kübler-Ross, E. (1973). On death and dying. London, England: Taylor & Francis [CAM].
Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief
through the five stages of loss. New York, NY: Scribner