Grief has often been an area that those in the helping profession want to better understand, but often also shy away. I'm sure everyone has heard of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It's one of the first items that come up when you Google grief. I often hear people say that they feel confused.
"I don't know what stage I'm in."
"I went backwards in stages!"
"I feel all the stages! What's going on?"
Those stages of grief were first developed by Dr. Kubler-Ross to explain what terminal patients go through as they near the end of their life. The stages were then generalized to everyone experiencing grief by helping professionals that were hoping to simplify the process to better help others.
Grief, however, is more complex. You may experience these feelings, along with many others, most of which are completely normal, and none of which come one at a time. I, personally, felt many all at one time. That's normal! Grief isn't something we can tie up to put in a box. Grief is messy! That's okay. Once we embrace the mess and learn how to work through it, the better we'll start to feel in control. It's emotions that have to be felt and understood at whatever time they come, in whatever fashion they come in. Sometimes I could be in the happiest of moments, but still feel sad and angry that Addy wasn't able to experience it with me. There will still other times when the thoughts of her brought me happiness, and others when it was unbearable. This is all part of grief.
Grief is sometimes thought of as a wilderness that you have to go through. You can't go around it or over it. The only way is through. Step by step. Moment by moment. Eventually, you learn the wilderness. You know the creeks, the sunny spots, the pitfalls. You meet others living there, too, and you join with them in the journey. Do you ever get out of it? No. It's a life-long process, but it is one that you can learn to be happy within. I often find gifts in the wilderness, and I'm excited to share that next week.
One of the reasons that grief support groups are recommended is that sometimes it's helpful to have someone else who understands your journey. People who have not lost a child may have difficulty understanding why certain things are difficult to talk about, or even not know how to talk to you anymore out of feel or discomfort. Some pull away, or you may pull away from others. Support groups are filled with others who understand your journey because they are on it as well. As parents often say they feel isolated, this is also a way to combat those feelings.
Coping with grief can be difficult as well. It is normal, especially in the beginning of your journey, to feel numb, sadness, anger, difficulty trusting others, missing your loved one, and more. As you move through grief, and with time, these feelings are not as intense, and you learn how to cope with them. For me, breathing through the intense feelings or thinking of happy times has helped me.
For others, grief can turn into what is called "complicated grief". It may be that a person completely tries to block out anything that had to do with the child who passed, maybe taking down pictures or removing items that remind them. Other people may feel more intense sadness that is coupled with suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, unable to do everyday things (like go to work, get out of bed, eat, etc.), isolation, unable to sleep/over sleeping, and/or physical illness. When your grief is affecting work, school, socially, or other areas in your life, you may be experiencing complicated grief. Remember that PTSD and depression are often associated, and there is help available.
If you think you're experiencing complicated grief, please see a bereavement counselor or call 1-800-542-COPE. There is hope! You can always call Addy's Colors as well, and we can help you find someone to talk to.
There are lots of options to help you through your grief! We're happy to help you find providers for any services below:
Grief Support Groups
Art and Music Therapy
You're not alone. We're here to help, whatever stage you're in.