Helping Your Life Work
April 1, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 4

At a Loss

There are many theories related to loss and grief. The most famous, of course, is that of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose work with terminally ill patients led her to develop the five stages of grief. These included Denial ("This can't be happening to me"), Anger (Why is this happening to me?"), Bargaining (What can I do so that this would not be happening to me?"), Depression (Who cares anymore?") and Acceptance ("I'm ready.") Her theory was later expanded to include, amongst other losses, the death of a loved one, divorce or loss of a job.

Kubler-Ross' theory evolved from an earlier four-stage theory by John Bowlby and Colin Parkes in which they identified Shock-Numbness, Yearning-Searching, Disorganization-Despair, and Reorganization as the typical progression of an individual's bereavement. And this, in turn, was based on Freudian belief that grieving a loss is normal and that we need to confront the reality of the loss and do "grief work" in order to successfully recreate a new reality in our world.

Later research has suggested that each of us grieves in our own ways, that we do not need to go through all the stages nor do we need to follow a specific sequence of stages to complete our mourning process. Some people, for example, may alternate between "Anger" and "Depression" before finally reaching a stage of "Acceptance."

There are many responses to grief besides emotional ones. Our entire beings may be affected in various ways. Physically, we may feel exhausted or we may find it difficult to eat or sleep or do our usual routines. We may experience tightness in the throat or shortness of breath. Spiritually, we may feel lost or confused. We may feel disappointed or betrayed by a deity that has let us down, or become preoccupied with our own deaths. Behaviourally, we may have trouble remembering or concentrating or performing as well as we used to. Socially, we may feel overly sensitive, withdrawn or lose interest in activities we used to enjoy. Many of these experiences are also symptomatic of those who suffer from anxiety or depression. The main difference between a clinical episode of depression or anxiety with that of a loss is that the latter is usually short-lived.

In our busy lives, we may not realize how important it is to stop and deal with our losses. After the funeral and the initial mourning period, we may rush back to work and to our normal routines, not fully comprehending that there is an open wound that needs time and tenderness to heal. We may rationalize, for example, that the deceased was elderly, or had suffered so long, or no longer had a quality of life worth maintaining, but the fact of the matter is that there is a void in our lives that was once filled by this person. We need to give ourselves permission to grieve that loss. By doing so, we begin to reach a deeper understanding of ourselves, the person we have lost and our connection with others, thus forming that new reality with our world that Freud spoke of.

If you have suffered a loss recently, you may find solace by reaching out to family, friends, a clergy member or a therapist to help you through this difficult and challenging period of bereavement.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
416 498-1352
“Helping Your Life Work”

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