Over the years Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has been known, principally by the public, as the real authority on dealing with grief. Five Stages of Grief were defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book "On Death and Dying", Macmillan Publishing Company, 1969. She presents 5 stages terminally ill people may go through upon learning of their terminal illness - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grief professionals acknowledge that these 5 Stages are the stages of Coping With Trauma - death need not be involved.
I am no professional expert counsellor in grief and can really only express from my experience and research. Experts in this area (peruse http://www.counselingforloss.com/article8.htm) talk about "Grief Work" beginning when the "honeymoon period" is over, when friends have stopped calling, everyone thinks you should be over it, the court case is resolved, "closure" has been effected, and everything is supposed to be back to normal. It's at this point that real grieving begins - that is after the 5 Stages of "Grief". Grief professionals often use the concept of "Grief Work" to help the bereaved through grief resolution - see http://www.counselingforloss.com for a site full of resources. I will address grief as the total journey - starting from the day of the trauma.
Emotional Results of Grief
When facing any adversity, I believe that it is extremely important to discuss it and work with what is at hand. Not talking about it is the worst thing one can do, because this can lead to the subconscious mind handling it with nightmares, hot sweats, unexplained anger, and irrational action. PTSD can be the resulting disorder. There is so much emotion around any traumatic event that the event becomes firmly implanted in our memory. If bringing the negative event to mind causes pain in the way of anger, hostility, blame, resentment, guilt, revenge, hurt etc, then one is hurting oneself and this can be happening to us for many years after the event unless we handle the grief or trauma. Whenever I now think of my daughters I sometimes momentarily think of their horrific death but I immediately replace the negative thought with fond, loving memories.
Handling grief is a process
Handling grief is a process and it takes time, sometimes a lot of time, before we will be able to come to the stage of thinking clearly about anything else (shock can often make us feel like a zombie - unable to think clearly and unable to make rational decisions). I don't believe there is any order to coping with grief. All of us are different and we'll do things differently! We go through grief in our own unique way.... however it is important and extremely helpful to reach out to others for assistance (and indeed for others to reach out to the one who is suffering to help them through this time). We need to talk about every single aspect of the event.
Forgetting about events is almost impossible and in many cases not even desirable. The feeling of pain will diminish with time - if it doesn't, and in fact it remains intense, then professional help may be required. Please don't make comparisons of any loss or trauma. Pain is a relative experience and there is no consolation in hearing that there is always someone worse off than you when we are experiencing our feelings.
Going Through Some Grief Before The Death Of A Loved One
Sometimes in life we are faced with the sadness of a loved one who is slowly slipping away from this physical world. This could be at home or say in a nursing home or indeed at a palliative care centre. The process is challenging and can generate a prolonged grieving period where one may experience agonising feelings of helplessness and the pain of watching the degeneration of our loved one as they progress towards the inevitable. During a time like this we ourselves can already be on a path of grief. We don't know exactly when our Loved One will pass away but we are watching them do so before our eyes. Perhaps we may have an image of them in our mind of what their essence was - when they were still in good health. Remember, how our Loved One looks now is not "who they are". On the one hand, as we recall their essence, we can have warm memories and on the other hand, when we observe the change, overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness can overwhelm us. Sometimes in a situation like this it can actually be a relief when they pass from the suffering of this world into the peaceful, "untouchable" state of death. Nothing more can now harm or damage them. They are in a "better" place. My wife says that when she thinks of her mother (who passed away after a long period of suffering) it is amazing how mostly only the wonderful, warm, loving thoughts and images come through. Often in this situation we have experienced so much grief prior to our Loved One's final passing that the period of intense grieving after their actual passing may be brief. When we have had an extended period of grieving like this, it can be helpful to have been able to say Goodbye, remember the good times and tell our Loved One how much we love them - even if we think they can not hear us, usually it is the case that hearing is one of the last senses to leave us. An elderly friend of mine has just lost his wife after a prolonged period of suffering and I suggested to him that at her bedside he speak to her comfortingly and tell her of his love for her. Afterwards, with tears in his eyes he told me what a difference it had made to both of them as his wife, very feebly, had been able to acknowledge that she had heard him.
Does Anyone Want To Be Another Victim?
One of the ways that helped me to move through grief after my daughters died, was talking about it. I was really lucky in that I had many friends around me who were able to keep me talking about every aspect of the girls' lives, my life, the murderer, emotions such as guilt, blame, judgements, anger, revenge, "Why me?" ... everything! The other major way I handled my grief was with meditation. When I was in the middle of meditation, a thought came to me which was "If you persist in being hateful, angry and revengeful ... then you're going to end up like that!" In other words, I would become another victim ... and it would mean that I would be doing this to myself (because we move towards our thoughts - negative thoughts attract negative thoughts which in turn leads to negative action and negative reaction ... and the corollary of course, fortunately, is also true). So I sought assistance and worked in meditation with changing hatred, anger and revenge to acceptance, co-operation, unconditional love and forgiveness.
Acceptance and Co-operation
Acceptance and co-operation probably go together. A short explanation of what I mean is that whatever has happened, already is. It has already happened. It doesn't matter how bad this adversity is, because according to the teachings I have learned about (and it is commonsense to me) whatever has happened cannot be changed, so co-operate with it, accept it, and in other words, don't deny it. Look for the lesson in the adversity. Asking a question of yourself such as "What is there in this event that I can apply to my life?" or "What is there in this event that I can learn and perhaps help others?" You see, asking a question like "Why me?" just sets up guilt. When we ask a question of ourselves the mind goes searching for an answer - and eventually gives it to us. I might as well have asked the question "Why do I deserve this to happen to me?" At the time I did ask "Why me?" and can you imagine the answers that my mind came up with? Things like "You've been a rotten father - you should never have got divorced", "You should have been there"; "You did some bad things when you were a kid ...like .....". You can see where this leads. And you've done it to yourself! A way to commence this process is by quietly thinking about acceptance and co-operation during meditation. It's a good idea to make this process of meditation a daily habit ... until you feel clear on these issues.
The next step is Love. This is the strongest force in the Universe and it is important to love all the people touched by this instance of grief. This includes yourself (after all, loving yourself is purely taking responsibility for yourself). I found that the analogies I use to help me understand unconditional love really helped me to be all-embracing, and are described in full detail in my book "Switch On to Your Inner Strength". Briefly, we all have an energy within us - whether we call it CHI, Prana, Life Force, Soul, Spirit, Spark of the Divine, or simply Energy. We are all joined to one another through this Energy in the same way that each and every ray of sunshine is ultimately joined back to each other ray of sunshine, through the body of the Sun. So when I extend my unconditional love to anyone, I bring to mind that part of the person who is joined to me (in the way just described) and then I say (to myself) "I unconditionally love you .... and say the name ..."
A final step is Forgiveness and after going through the steps above, you will know when you are ultimately ready for this part of the process. If there is still anger present, then one really needs to work with getting rid of the anger. I first did Forgiveness in meditation by once again bringing to mind that part of the person who is joined to me (once again in the way just described) and then I say (to myself) "I unconditionally forgive you .... and say the person's name ... for ..... whatever it is". There are a couple of things to remember. Forgiveness is for the Forgiver and NOT for the forgiven, so therefore it is not to be done face to face with the person, unless that person has specifically asked for forgiveness. You can do it in your own mind, in meditation. Another thing to always remember is that Forgiveness does not mean that you condone whatever the offence / crime / or event. The Forgiveness Process should always be a two-fold process - in other words, forgiving the other person and forgiving yourself. Forgive yourself for all the negative emotions and thoughts you have surrounding the particular event or issue.
I believe that Meditation is like Prayer and in fact, when you're doing Acceptance, Love and Forgiveness, it is actually a Spiritual process. If it sits well with you, it could be a good way for you to bring to mind somebody that you consider symbolises the Divine ... or perhaps a personal Guru, Teacher, etc... and "have a chat" to them ... or "ask advice" of them.
Another challenging and often essential component of going through grief and loss is that of "Letting Go". I have a complete chapter in my book Switch On To Your Inner Strength which addresses this area - I'll briefly summarise it. Monkeys often get caught (and pay for it with their lives) because they wouldn't let go of peanuts or bright crystals). The moral of the story is not that monkeys shouldn't eat peanuts, or play with crystals, or be curious. It's that there are circumstances where monkeys must let go. So too with our old habits, our old ways of doing things, our old opinions, our old attitudes. All of these things may have served us well in their time. But there comes a time to let go. As we progress through life we need to "Let Go Of" many things such as the past, our children, broken relationships, our status, resentment, envy and jealousy, a pet, a home, a business, a partner or a friend or a close relative who have "left us" through death, and eventually letting go of life itself.
My personal experience of letting go my three daughters after their murder was brought about by some advice that was given to me which stated "that you need to let them go as you may impede their progress". I didn't understand this but I know at the time I was meditating daily and bringing my daughters to my mind with very strong and powerful thoughts. The only thing I could think of to do at the time was to meditate and go through a process of letting go. What I did was akin to "Letting Go and Letting God", which meant that I did not bring them up in my meditation any more. Does this mean I don't talk about them or have their pictures around? No, of course not. I have their pictures, and whenever they come to mind now they are those lovely 16 and 19 year olds bringing a smile to my face with pleasant thoughts.
More Helpful Hints To Handle Grief
I always stress the importance of talking to friends about grief and trauma. It may not always be possible. Grief and trauma can take away your drive and persistence to find that person, or sometimes the people around you may not be able to or may be unwilling to listen to you. Sometimes the people around you may be part of the problem or they may have their own problems. Sometimes partners may not understand or you may be a person who won't talk about things or you may feel that you may drive people away if you start sharing your feelings - we all have some insecurity about our relationships.
The key is certainly to express, to verbalise, to live and relive the memories and the might-have-beens. Here are some alternative ways of working through grief and trauma other than talking to a supportive, responsive person.
Remember all the support that is out there in the community, such as Lifeline who are available 24 hours a day (or similar support organisations who are available at the end of a telephone). Another very good organisation which I am pretty sure is world-wide is "Compassionate Friends". Working through grief within a supportive group may be just the perfect thing to take you through a next hurdle in your journey of grief - people who have "been there before" may have new thoughts or ways of coping that you are unable to think of when in deep grief.
When you're alone with your grief, one thing that can be really helpful is to write down all your thoughts and feelings as they arise. Writing can be both therapeutic and cathartic. What could you do with your writings? What I would do (and have done) is to call in the Light for the highest good of all concerned and burn what you have written. Some people have mentioned to me that having a diary has been something that has helped them with their grief journey. It also may be worthwhile to write letters or emails about your feelings or journey to friends who can then read and respond in their own time.
Free-form writing can be very mind-clearing. This entails writing about your thoughts as they come into your mind, without any attention to spelling, grammar, form, etc... You write as quickly as you can and then when you may be in the middle of a sentence and another thought comes into your mind, don't complete the sentence you're in the middle of, but just continue to write about the new thought. So you see, at the end of all this the writing does not make sense - so I recommend that you don't re-read it. Once again, call in the Light, burn it and let it go for the highest good of all concerned.
There is no doubt that coping with Grief and Loss is an enormous challenge and know that whatever way you do it is OK - there is no "one way" and it is very individual. It is a good idea however to take a structured approach to it and definitely "Do" something about coping with Grief and Loss. I have, with this E-Report, offered some different strategies which come from personal experience and please know that this short paper does not attempt to be or to provide a definitive answer to everyone's grief issues.
So, I'm hoping that you or your friends may find that this E-Report of some value in addressing one of life's challenges which none of us will escape.
Be Easy On Yourself and All The Best
PS. I've included some Q & A (below) that I have had on the subject which you may find helpful.
Q & A
Are there any books you can recommend which deal with grief
Here are the names of some books that may be helpful with grief (along with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's books, which are some of the best-known ones). "Life After Life" mentioned below, has an Introduction by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:
Name of Book Author ISBN #
Coping with Grief Mal McKissock 0-7333-0236-X
Life After Life Raymond A Moody, Jr., MD 0-553-24452-3?
Life After Death Neville Randall 0-552-11487-1
Everyone's Guide to the Hereafter Ken Akehurst through G.M. Roberts 0-85435-414-X
The Awakening Heart Betty J. Eadie 0-671-55878-1
and my book ... "Switch On to Your Inner Strength" may be helpful
I am really struggling with my attachment to my ex-partner. I have purchased your tapes, but I can't recall all of the topics - is one of those useful for learning to 'let go'? I seem to be quite stuck - any thoughts
I don't have a specific tape for letting go, however 2 thoughts come to mind. The first is that we really don't need the love of another person to happily survive, if we love ourselves enough - the tape (or CD) PP13 - Inner Peace & Harmony is the tape that really addresses this area (sometimes I recommend the tape (or CD) PP10 - Self Worth & Confidence when I perceive this to be the issue).
The second thought that comes to mind is that the process of letting go was discussed and observed in the film "A Leap of Faith" during the seminar and we saw how Debbie actually "said" to her dead parents that she needs to let them go to get on with her life (I've just realised that you haven't done the seminar yet). I actually address this in the book "Switch On to Your Inner Strength" so perhaps this book may be an avenue of assistance.
After understanding both the above processes, make a decision to let go and then actually bring the person into your mind during meditation - send all your love to that person "for the highest good of all concerned" and then say "I now let you go" - do this several times. A meditation tape (or CD) that you could play while doing this is PP5 - Meditation.