Besides my own experiences with loss, I also encountered many people who went through the pain of loss in my work and ministry in healthcare. I saw the process of grief described in textbooks in actual situations.
Loss is a part of life because life is changing. Life on earth has a beginning and an ending. It is also confronted with different challenges. Loss comes to us in many different ways. It may be caused by death or difficult situations like a serious diagnosis, departure of a loved one to far-off places, changes in life situations like retirement, or divorce.
We grieve as a result of a loss. Grief is a feeling of intense sadness and our body’s reaction in coping with loss or difficult situations. Grief is a part of our human conditions. There are many stories in the Bible that tell us about grief. King David grieves over the loss of his son Absalom. Naomi in the Book of Ruth, grieves over the loss of her husband and two sons, and eventually, upon leaving her daughters-in-law to return to her hometown.
Every person grieves in his/her own way to cope with a loss. Acceptance and healing from grief do not come like a lightning bolt. Grief is a process.
There are many theories and explanations on grief I learned in school. I find it helpful to understand its concepts and processes so I can effectively provide spiritual support and intervention to those who experience the pain of loss.
The five stages of grief established by Elisabeth Kubler- Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist has been widely accepted and used by many experts in understanding grief. Although Kubler-Ross came up with these stages as a result of her frequent contact with terminally-ill patients, the stages can also be applied to anyone who experiences significant losses or traumatic experiences:
Denial is the first stage of grief. It is our body’s way of absorbing only as much as it can handle. A person tries to convince himself or herself that the event did not take place. A person may say, “This must not be true,” or “This cannot happen.
Anger is a strong feeling of hostility when one can no longer deny the loss. Anger can be directed to oneself, or to others, including a loved one who died, and even to God. A person may ask his/her deceased loved one, why do you leave me or why do you do this to me? He/she may also ask God, if you are benevolent and merciful, why do you allow this to happen to me?
Bargaining may take the form of a temporary respite from a crisis. This is the feeling that one will do anything if he/she can only go back to the past and prevent a loss from happening. Most often, denial is directed to the higher power. A person may say “Please God, I would live a morally righteous life if you spare me from this illness, or I will never shout at my wife again if you will not allow this divorce to go through. The most common word phrase used in bargaining is “If only.”
After the stage of bargaining, the attention moves into the actual crisis. As a result, grief enters into a person’s life on a deeper level. He/she may experience signs of depression like restlessness, loneliness, and sleep disturbance. A person may ask if there are any point and meaning in moving forward in life.
Acceptance is the stage when a person acknowledges the reality of loss. He/She also shows readiness to move forward or adjust living with a new reality (e.g., without a loved one around).
Acceptance does not mean one is completely fine with what has happened. It is difficult to completely feel all right about a significant loss. However, finding acceptance will enable a person to move forward in life or to find worthy causes out of their loss. An example of this is establishing a case to honor their departed loved ones, the readiness to participate in a support group, or the willingness to embark on a spiritual renewal. Acceptance is the beginning of the healing process.
There are some experts who claim that there are no predictable patterns of grief. Grief still differs from one person to another. There are those who are stuck in one stage and there are those who simultaneously experience different stages. Those who may demonstrate acceptance may still go back to earlier stages in a given time. Moreover, a person does not necessarily go through stages to complete the grieving process. Nevertheless, I still find the concept of Dr. Kubler-Ross helpful in understanding the processes of grief that may help us cope with loss.
Note: This article is not a substitute for a professional advice.
David Kessler, The Five Stages of Grief, available at https://grief.com/the-five-stages-of-grief/
On Grief: Gary Collins, PhD, Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd ed, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2007), pp 467-473.
On Spirituality: Mary Elizabeth O’Brien, Spirituality in Nursing: Standing on Holy Ground, 3rd ed, (Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2008), pp 324-326.