Grief - Its Five Components
There are 5 very recognizable components to grief that everyone goes through in a time of great loss. That loss can be brought about by the death of a loved one but also through a traffic accident, a physical assault, graduating from high school or college, a move away from town, or even a divorce from someone you really want to be divorced from.
The first recognizable component of grief is denial: There are some good aspects to it, as denial can help you through the initial hours as you make arrangements for the funeral. In a few rare cases, the mourner may even deny there has been a death. In most instances, however, it will simply take the form of expecting the deceased one to walk around the corner; then it will hit you, no, he/she won’t. Also, months later, you may catch yourself in some happy event and thinking, “Oh, I’ll tell him/her about it.” And then it will hit you, no, you can’t do that. When really badly expressed, it can prevent dealing with the reality of the death (or traumatic event).
The second component is known as “bargaining,” or “frustration:” You’ll be thinking, “If only we’d done this,” “If only he hadn’t done that,” “What if I hadn’t…;” there are no answers to these questions, but you will go through them repeatedly, even though you’ve already thought of them, so learn from the questions for the future, for your own life. You’ll think you’re going crazy, but you’re not, it’s just a normal part of grief.
The third component comes out as anger: You really need to know about this one: The enormous built-up emotional energy generated by grief is sometimes released through a flash of anger, even aimed at a loved one or some other inappropriate person, even an innocent bystander. One needs to be able to work off the emotional energy by going for a long, fast walk or some sort of exercise. Apologize and explain if it burst out inappropriately. Avoid caffeine or alcohol, which aggravate the possibility of such an outburst.
The fourth component is well known, it is the sadness: It will come over you in waves, may even be set off by a favorite piece of music, and it helps one get through it by talking to a good friend about the feelings and the death, perhaps even the relationships with the deceased. And cry. Write a letter to the deceased one, particularly if there is some complication with the relationship that was unresolved at the time of the death.
The fifth component is known as acceptance: “Well, his/her suffering is over, she/he’s in a better place now…,” but unfortunately you don’t go through it 1-2-3-4-5 and you’re home free; classic studies and experience have shown that we go through it randomly - 1,5,2,4,3,1,5,2,3,4,2,4,2, etc., etc., etc. - for a couple of months; and it can still occur later than that at holidays, anniversaries (such as of the death itself), birthdays, family times - or at the next death, or when a hymn from the funeral is played at a different service much later.
It’s possible to get stalled in one component, particularly if there was a difficult relationship or one complicated by a need for deep healing. In which case, do seek help.
Realize as well that grief comes with the death of a loved one, which is to say, you were loved and loved in return. We don’t get sad with a glance at the obituaries, unless there is someone shown whom we knew whose death we are just learning. We didn’t know, were not loved by, and didn’t have personal love for them.
Thus, grief is a privilege reserved for ones who have been loved. I would not take it away from you if I could. It is healing to go through it, and dangerous to try to avoid it, say, with alcohol or tranquilizers; because whatever you won’t deal with, is already dealing with you.
Pay attention to your dreams for the next month, as you may well have a dream involving the loved one, reconciling some issue between the two of you.
The Rev. John W. Price, B.A., M.Div., Spiritual Director Assisting Priest, Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church 713-594-3231; firstname.lastname@example.org ; www.frjohnwprice.org
Further reading: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., On Death and Dying Linn, Matthew and Dennis, S.J., Healing Life’s Hurts, Healing the Greatest Hurt, Paulist Press.