Five Steps toward Grieving a Loss

Grieving a loss is a process that we will all experience at some point in our lives. The most obvious form of grieving is for a deceased loved one, including a pet. However, loss can occur in areas other than in death such as when receiving a health diagnosis, during the end of a union, or even when an experience doesn't measure up to your expectations. 

Being a parent means coming face to face with missed or unrealized expectations frequently. Perhaps your child doesn't make a sports team or get cast in a play. Or perhaps he or she gets left out of a social event or doesn't get in to his or her first choice of colleges. Parenting requires navigating a minefield of losses, potentially big and small.

Although mourning the loss of something you hold dear is never easy, understanding the process of grieving can help normalize what you are experiencing.  Here are the five stages of grief, first purposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying which shed light on the process:

  1. Denial and isolation: the first reaction for many is "This can't really be happening" or "I don't believe it". This is a normal reaction to help block and process overwhelming emotions that threatens to flood a person in the immediate aftermath. 
  2. Anger: As the shock wears off, anger tends to dominate your emotional mind. It is common for vulnerability, pain and a general sense of injustice around the loss to get transformed into anger. 
  3. Bargaining: Feelings of helplessness drive you toward finding an answer as to why a situation has happened, "If only I'd insisted he see a doctor sooner..." or "If I'd only acted differently, she wouldn't have broken up with me," or "If I had studied harder, I would have gotten into a better school."  Bargaining can also serve to take the edge off of the pain, but doesn't change the situation.
  4. Depression: You might feel sadness, regret, guilt, worry and possibly shame as related to the loss. This stage can last longer than the other stages and you can go in and out of this stage several times. Prolonged, intractable sadness can turn into depression.
  5. Acceptance: This final stage is not necessarily where you feel completely better. It's a space of full realization that the outcome was not that you had hoped or expected, however it is manageable and your life can continue richly and fully. 

If you are mourning a loss of any kind, you might traverse some or all of these steps toward acceptance.  Or perhaps you are struggling with the process and cannot get to acceptance at all. This will likely cause emotional turmoil and suffering. The goal is to name your feelings, understand that you are going through a difficult process, be gentle with yourself as you go through it and seek counseling or help if you get stuck.