“You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”
- J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Grief is a human reaction to loss or the threat of loss. Sigmund Freud wrote that “we not only mourn for the loss of tangible bonds, such as the loss of people, but we also grieve for the loss of such intangibles as self-image, dreams and health (Freud, 1917). Moreover, we begin to grieve as soon as there is a hint that a bond is threatened.
What is grief?
Grief is the way we feel when we lose a person, place, and/or thing. It involves mixed emotions: sorrow, anger, shock, fear, distress, etc. Grief is not a disease. Rather, grief is a process – the process of dealing with the emotions that are a direct result of experiencing a loss.
This process is universally recognized across all cultures. Furthermore, and important to realize, is that although grief usually occurs when the loss involves a death, the grief model may also be applied to other situations, including the breakup of a relationship or divorce, loss of job or loss of license to practice law, and/or coming to terms with loss of health through an illness or a disability.
Unfortunately, we cannot know how a particular loss is going to feel until that loss actually occurs. One of our first reactions, however, is to shut down. In other words, we react to our loss with shock, numbness and disbelief. Fortunately, this reaction cushions us from overwhelming feelings during the first hours or even weeks of the loss. How long it takes an individual to come out of his/her numbness to the loss depends on the individual circumstances surrounding the loss.
At some point, however, the individual realizes that the loss is real. As the numbness wears off, he/she begins to realize what the loss is going to mean. This explains why many individuals feel worse after a few months have gone by. The reality of this loss starts to sink in. Generally, the most difficult grieving starts here because the support we received immediately after the loss has tapered off.
Still, we must allow ourselves to experience the pain - all of the pain - of our loss in all of its forms. There are no shortcuts through the pain. We can “stuff down” feelings and delay grieving, but the grief will not diminish until we travel through it by experiencing it fully.
Therapists use different models - some suggest 4 stages to grief, while other suggests five stages. Here are the major stages:
1. Stage One: Shock/Denial – The reality of the loss often takes time to sink in. One of the first reactions is denial, wherein the individual imagines a false, preferable reality. Similarly, your initial reactions may vary from numbness, denial, disbelief, and hysteria, to not being able to think strait. These are all natural emotions that cushion us against the loss and allow us to experience it more slowly and cope better.
2. Stage Two: Protest/Anger – At this stage, it is normal to protest that loss cannot be real, even though you are being confronted with the evidence that it is. When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they may become frustrated. As one struggles between denying and eventually accepting the reality of what has happened, the individual experiences waves of strong and powerful feelings such as: anger, guilt, sadness, fear, yearning and searching. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this Phase would be “Why me? It’s not fair!” How can this happen to me?” “Why would God let this happen?”
3. Stage Three: Bargaining. With bargaining, there is a sense that we just want life back to the way it used be. Usually, the negotiation (bargaining) for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Other times, one may use anything valuable against another human agency to extend or prolong the life. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.
4. Stage Four: Depression. Eventually grief will enter on a deeper level, bringing with it intense feelings of emptiness and sadness. One may feel like he/she does not care about much of anything and wish life would just hurry up and pass on by. Getting out of bed can be a huge burden, exhaustion and apathy can set if, and we may be to wonder the point of life itself.
5. Stage Five: Acceptance - "It's going to be okay.” "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it." In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.
What is the correct way to cope with the emotions of loss (grief)?
There is no right nor wrong way to grieve – only your unique way. Whatever gender or difference, including cultural, your way of coping with the emotions resulting from the loss may be positive or negative. Because grieving is like a roller coaster – one day you may feel up, the next down. Therefore it is important to come to terms with your grief:
Sadly, we must remember, in life – loss is inevitable. It is up to us to use positive coping skills to deal with the change that arises from a loss. Going through the above stages and using most of the above tools allow hope to break through the dark waves in the normally calm seas. Slowly new life incorporates both the loss, as well as the change, and has the strength to go on. In fact, some psychologists call it post-traumatic growth.
Remember too, if you, or someone you know, would like additional information on this topic or help, call The Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program (DE-LAP) at (302) 777-0124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Delaware Lawyers Assistance Program (DE-LAP), The Professional Guidance Committee, The Delaware Lawyers Assistance Committee, and the SOLACE Committee – at this time offer our deepest condolences to the Biden Family for their immeasurable loss upon the passing of Beau Biden, Esquire. Our deepest condolences go out also to Mr. Biden’s peers and co-workers.
Coping with Workplace Grief, Dealing with Loss, Trauma, and Change, by J. Shep Jeffreys, Ed.D., C.T., Revised Edition, Thomson.
Free yourself from Harmful Stress, Trevor Powell, Bereavement and Loss, DL Publishing.
Grief At Work Resource Manual, by Hel Fitzgerald, American Hospice Foundation.
Coping With Grief and Loss, Item #6033, Brochure, Performance Resource Press, Inc. Troy, Michigan, www.PRPonline.net.