Saturday, 13 June 2009

On grief

Pushing Boy #2 back from the shops this week, I bumped into an acquaintance. I don't know her well, having met her only a couple of times at a mutual friend's house, but it was good to see her. I asked how she was. It was as if the floodgates opened, and I learned that this year has not been good to her family since it started with her husband losing his job. I wanted to hug her and make that and all the subsequent events go away, but held back because I thought that if I did, she might lose it completely, then and there on the street. I made do with just squeezing her arm and expressing all the sympathy that I could.

We spoke briefly about how she was feeling about everything that had happened. Angry with her husband, apparantly. And whilst she knows it's not rational, and that it's not his fault that he was made redundant, she can't get past this feeling.

I suggested that perhaps talking to an unbiased third party might help and that I could recommend a counsellor if she decided to go that way, but I know that she won't do that. Not yet, at any rate. Quite possibly she believes that her anger is the only thing keeping her going, and I sympathise as I understand that; it is how I felt a while back.

I tried to explain to her that how she is feeling right now is part of a recognised pattern of human behaviour and that she shouldn't expect too much of herself. At the same time though, I worry for her, because without assistance it's so easy to get trapped in that stage of the grief process - and it is a process. How do I know this? Having been lucky enough to benefit from counselling over recent years I can identify each stage from personal experience.

This chance meeting has started me thinking that many, if not most people, may not have heard about the Kubler-Ross model for the 5 stages of grief, and that it might not hurt if I outlined it briefly here; it certainly helped me to understand what I was going through.

This model was originally developed for people who had been given a terminal illness diagnosis by Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book 'On Death and Dying', and describes the five stages of how people deal with grief. It was subsequently updated as it is now widely recognised that personal tragedy can strike in a number of different forms and is not limited to those specific situations. Nowadays this structure is applied to events as widespread as miscarriage, losing a job, ending a relationship, the death of a loved one, oh, the list is endless.

I don't know about you, but if I am able to label or categorise what I'm feeling, then often it helps me to move on through it. And I know that everyone, at some stage of their life, is touched by grief of some kind or another. So here, in brief, are those five stages, in the hope that it may help people currently going through them...

1. Denial: This can't be happening, not to me.

2. Anger: Who's to blame?

3. Bargaining: Can I just have a little more time to make it right?

4. Depression: What's the point of anything?

5. Acceptance: It's going to be OK.

Please be aware, however, that these stages do not necessarily run in order, and that you may not only experience each of them just once; it's possible to jump backwards and forwards between them, and even to be dealing with more than one at a time.

There is some good news, however. If you don't force the process (i.e. if you ignore the 'pull yourself together' advice that is sometimes so misguidedly - if kindly - dished out), and work through each stage, you will eventually reach the final one; Acceptance.

And, speaking from personal experience, then you can move on.


  1. Acceptance and moving forward being the keys to sanity I think. Well written PM.

  2. Wow powerful post Potty thanks. You sound like you are perfect material for a career in counselling. Ever thought about it?

    Lucky for your friend that she bumped into you - I'm sure that helped.

    BM x

  3. I agree. Funnily enough I wrote about exactly this process when my other half was made redundant about 18 months ago - trouble was, he kept bouncing between denial and anger for ages. You have to trust the process - it does work, eventually. It's so hard, though, to fight the impulse to want to 'make everything right' for a friend who's going through it.

    Great blog, by the way - only just discovered it.

  4. Thanks Sharon!

    BM, I do hope so. We'll see.

    LBD, thanks for commenting and apologies for the abbrev - I hope that's OK. Funnily enough my husband was made redundant around the same time; they must both have been early casualties of the recession. And it's shocking how deeply this can affect people, I agree.

  5. Hi Potty, thanks for writing about this, I'm sure it will help a lot of people - not least me!

  6. Hi, I read this post and thought what is she posting about that for? And then haven't been able to stop thinking about it all weekend, so have just posted some of the thoughts it provoked. Thanks for food for thought. I have just started blogging/reading blogs and really enjoy yours.

  7. DD, thank my counsellor, not me...

    HMHB, thanks for visiting and commenting and apologies for the abbrev. I read your post, and really liked it. I hope that mine helped.

  8. Those stages resonate with me, especially when I think about how I processed my miscarriage a couple of years ago. I agree with Bush Mummy, you would be a great counsellor.

  9. Posting this was a wonderful idea. My family is going through some serious grief right now after the loss of my aunt and I was just talking to my mom about these stages the other day. I told her the same thing about not going through one at a time or in order or anything expected. Boy, do I know that as I am finding myself jumping all over the place in this period of grieving.

  10. Thanks MaL (and BM!). Not sure I could maintain the distance required though; I think I would probably get far too personally involved with my clients!

    Lisa, so glad that you liked it. And just be good to yourself whilst you're going through it. It doesn't matter what anyone else's expectations of how long the process should take are; it's how you feel about it all that matters.


Go on - you know you want to...