Dealing with Grief: 6 Stages
Let’s talk about grief.
When we experience health trauma – be it acute or chronic – our doctors tend to focus on prescribing medication and proscribing lifestyle changes to ease our physical symptoms. What they often overlook are the psychological effects of having your entire life turned upside down. But anyone who has experienced acute or chronic health trauma knows that healing physical symptoms is only part of the coping process. What our M.D. specialists don’t usually explain is the very real grieving period that comes with health trauma.
When Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published her book On Death and Dying in 1969, she established a 5-stage sequence of grief patterns that she observed in terminally ill patients. These stages were denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although these are the stages we still commonly associate with grief and the grieving process, it’s high time we updated common knowledge with the knowledge of the scientific community.
First, the Kübler-Ross model is not a complete model of grief. These five stages were created to describe someone grieving their own death before it happened. This does not account for grieving a loss after it has happened, nor does it address grieving the loss of someone (or something) other than oneself. When health trauma takes away your career, your independence, your dreams of a specific future where you are perfectly healthy, or any number of expectations, you grieve the loss. You grieve for the fully-functioning body you once had, and you grieve for the person you might have been. And guess what? It is 100% okay and normal to grieve.
It does not make you selfish or a bad person to grieve the life you had before health trauma. It makes you human, and going through the grieving process can help you be healthier and happier.
Second, there is an additional stage felt by mourners facing life after a significant loss: confusion. This is a big part of grieving for many people who experience health trauma. “Who am I now that I can’t keep my job?” “How do all my new medications fit into the life I wanted?” “Who will want to date me now that I have a permanent tube sticking out of chest?” Questions like these are normal, and they are part of the grieving process. Although I don’t recommend dwelling on the long list of what ifs, it does not make you selfish to have these questions. It does not make you a bad person to grieve for the life you had before your health trauma. It makes you human, and going through the grieving process can help you be healthier and happier.
This post is the beginning of a 7-post series that addresses the grieving process in its six stages:
We now understand that grief has more – and more nuanced – stages. We also know that these stages do not always happen in the same order, nor do they happen by themselves. Often, the stages are revisited again and again during the grieving process. They overlap, and they get jumbled with the emotions of our daily lives. Additionally, new events and losses that trigger the grieving process anew will reopen old wounds, mixing past grief with present grief.
Whether you’re new to the whirlwind of doctor appointments, medical treatments, and health insurance phone calls, or you’re an old hat who has already made their peace with the journey, I invite you to think about grief. Your grief, and the grief of those who love you. With each post, let the idea of the grief you have or might experience sink in. It might not help today, but it could maybe help tomorrow.