Understanding Grief

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Grief is difficult to understand. It appears as a thief, an enemy, a giant. I am not sure we can say it ever leaves. It is not a task to accomplish or surmount, neither is it a phase to get through. Grieving is a journey, sometimes a lifelong process. Though grief might first enter like unwelcomed company, it will eventually become your ally. Teaching you, growing you, even nurturing you. If grief is handled in the appropriate way, it can be a beautiful instrument of healing.

Grief is a journey that requires the expression of emotions such as anger, denial, fear, guilt and loneliness. Exhaustion, depression, confusion and bargaining are also just a few of the myriad of emotions people in grief experience. Grief represents the thoughts and feelings experienced within a person when he or she has a relationship with someone who dies, or experiences loss. It is the internal experience of our loss.

Mourning is taking the internal experience of grieving and expressing it outside to oneself. In other words, it is “grief gone public.”

It is helpful to admit our feelings and be honest with ourselves and those around us about those emotions by expressing them in a healthy way.

Several people have identified “phases” of grief and mourning. While this information is helpful in preparing for the journey, it must not be taken without considering our individual differences. Not all people experience all of the stages mentioned by scholars, let alone experience those phases in order! Some people describe feeling as though they are in multiple phases at once, and others say they would move through phases in a different order than literature suggests.

Below are some “stages of grieving” and “phases of mourning” that are simply pieces of information to educate you on the process. Again, I find that grieving can be a lifelong journey and experience. Some people I’ve worked with claim to have experienced this journey for 10 years, some for 20. Please understand that your journey is unique to you and this information is meant to be a very broad picture, not an exact definition of your process.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ 5 stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

James Worden’s Phases of Mourning:

  • Numbness
  • Yearning (anger)
  • Disorganization
  • Dispair (Difficult to function in the environment)

Tasks of Mourning:

  1. Accept the reality of the loss
  2. Process the pain of grief
  3. Adjust to world without the deceased
  4. Find an enduring connection with the deceased individual in the midst of embarking on new life.

Grieving requires patience. It requires support. And it requires vulnerability. Grieving is one of the bravest things you will ever do. It is not a sign of weakness, but is instead a display of admirable courage and growth.

Part 1 of grief & loss curriculum 
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