Bereavement: Coping With The Loss Of A Loved One

shutterstock_148518026At some point in your life, you may lose a loved one and mourning over their death is a normal part of the grieving process. The death of someone you love is one of the greatest losses that can happen and you’ll experience a series of emotions, known as the five stages of grief, a model introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. In fact, Stuart MacFarlane, a psychotherapist, worked with Kubler-Ross and is a bereavement counsellor. With that in mind, MacFarlane has helped numerous patients cope with the loss of a loved one and commonly explains the five stages of grief to help patients understand their emotional struggles during this difficult time.

Stage 1: Denial

The first emotional reaction to learning about the passing of a loved one is to the deny the reality of the situation. This normal reaction is a defense mechanism to the overwhelming emotions to buffer the shocking news. We tend to block out the situation and shy away from the facts because we don’t want to know it’s real. This temporary response carries into the first wave of pain and grieving.

Stage 2: Anger

As the denial stage starts to fade away and the reality of the situation starts to set, we go through anger because we aren’t ready to accept the loss. The intense emotion is deflected and expressed as anger instead of sadness that may be aimed towards complete strangers, inanimate objects, friends or family. Anger may even be direct towards the loved one who just passed away but when we think of it rationally, the deceased loved on is not to blame. However, on an emotional sense, we may be angry they are causing us such an intense pain for leaving and this can make us feel guilty.

Stage 3: Bargaining

After feeling helpless and vulnerable, we need to regain control of the situation and we begin thinking about ways we should have intervened or ways we should acted differently while they were alive. We may think:

  • Only if I helped them seek medical attention sooner…
  • Only if I got them a second opinion…
  • Only if I acted better towards them…

The list can go on and we secretly try to make a deal with a higher power to reverse the inevitable but this defensive mechanism cannot protect our emotions from the harsh reality.

Stage 4: Depression

Depression begins to creep in and there are generally two types of depression associated with grieving. The first type revolves around the practical implications relating to the loss like sadness, regret and worry (costs, burial, estate planning, etc.). This phase can be eased with some reassurance that we don’t have control over everything or everyone. The second type of depression is more subtle and private because we have to mentally prepare to say our final goodbyes to the loved one.

Stage 5: Acceptance

The last stage of the grieving process is acceptance but reaching this stage can be difficult and may take a long time. While acceptance does not mean an individual forgets about the person who passed, it’s attributed by making peace with the situation.

Going through the five stages of grief is a normal reaction when faced with the unfortunate reality of losing someone and it doesn’t have to be a dealt with alone. Bereavement counsellors can help individuals cope with the intense emotions and may help them recover faster than doing it alone.

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