Ways To Deal With Grief
Most of us are probably familiar with the stages of grief as a concept. The Kübler-Ross model by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1961 famously identified the “five stages of grief” as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in that order; however, more recent theories have suggested that the order of stages may vary greatly from person to person, include additional stages, and exclude others. In particular, psychologists have started paying more attention to the phenomenon of anticipatory grief: experiencing many of the same feelings in response to an anticipated loss. For adults witnessing their aging parents and other loved ones in decline, anticipatory grief is an unavoidable reality.
Conventionally, the grieving process starts in response to an actual loss and runs its course over whatever amount of time the mourner takes to readjust. With anticipatory grief, however, it starts upon receiving a terminal diagnosis or learning of a loved one’s permanent incapacity and may last until their death, at which point the remaining grief begins. Moreover, anticipatory grief usually manifests as imagining how life will be after the loss. The conversation on anticipatory grief is such a new one because advances in medicine have only recently accustomed us to reliable lifespan estimates. We may have difficulty letting go because knowing the estimates can make us wish they lasted longer. However, effectively coping with anticipatory grief can ease the final grieving process and give all parties peace of mind.
This article explains how different forms of grief manifest and how to cope with them productively. The key thing to remember is that anticipatory grief is just as common and normal as grief after a death, and likewise involves many of the same symptoms and coping mechanisms. If you follow this advice when the time comes or help others do the same, you will have an easier time coming to terms.
How to Recognize the Stages of Grief
To recognize any form of grief, it may be useful to understand the well-known “five stages” as some of the most common symptoms –and, again, neither guaranteed nor in linear order. For starters, denial usually only manifests for a few moments as actually denying the loss occurred; it mostly manifests as the numbness of denying oneself any of the other grief stages. Anger can last for short or long periods depending on how well we manage it and is nevertheless better to feel than repress. Bargaining is essentially a momentary combination of denial and survivor’s guilt, as it involves a spiritual or secular offer of self-improvement that we rationally know cannot save our loved one. Depression as a grief stage generally lasts longer than other stages, but much more temporarily than in its clinical form. Acceptance is more of remission than a recovery, in which grief symptoms subside and we move on with our lives rather than being “okay” with the loss we accept.
Other generalized grief symptoms include sadness, anxiety, fatigue, loneliness, fear, difficulty focusing or remembering, an increased desire to open up. These may overlap with any number of the five stages depending on our individual psychological backgrounds. Additionally, anticipatory grief includes symptoms that could only result from expecting your loss in advance. You may think about how life will change without your loved one, feel more concerned about their current state, try to get their affairs in order, and make preparations for events you anticipate occurring after their death (e.g. funeral plans, personal coping mechanisms).
The grief of either kind may seem insurmountable, but there are constructive coping mechanisms to ensure that you validate these emotions as they deserve and make peace with your loved one’s passing. The next section of this article will explain some of these methods.
How to Cope with Anticipatory Grief and Bereavement
When you have understood that all of the above grief symptoms are natural and that letting them run their course to acceptance does not change how much you love and miss your loved one, you can cope well enough that grief no longer disrupts your daily life. One crucial coping mechanism is recourse to a support system. You may talk to family anticipating or experiencing the same loss, sympathetic friends, a support group of people in similar situations, or a bereavement counselor. With anticipatory grief, it’s good to balance getting your loved one’s affairs in order with other activities, such as going through old memories or engaging in cherished family bonding activities, so that you can celebrate their life instead of solely feeling the grief at this time. Making amends, expressing love, and reassuring your loved one that you will carry on even as you miss them can make both of you feel like a weight has been lifted.
An outlet for your feelings is crucial; even if anyone tries to delegitimize your feelings because you are only anticipating the loss thus far or for any other reason, it is best to ignore them because refusing to grieve could trap you in denial and guilt. Besides the support systems outlined above, you can express your feelings through art, journaling, photography, mindfulness meditation, or other solitary outlets –especially if you are not ready to talk. Be sure to keep up healthy sleeping, eating, hygiene, and exercise habits to keep your thoughts and feelings grounded at this difficult time.
It is also crucial to recognize that your feelings may not match the conventional stages of grief and that it’s okay if they do not. Feeling relief after a loved one’s death causes many people guilt, but actually means that they and their loved one received closure from the preparations above rather than them not caring or feeling okay with it. Denial and acceptance sometimes also cause guilt by manifesting as emotional stability rather than active numbness, but this is not the same as apathy and could precede feeling grief symptoms later –or result from reaching acceptance during the anticipatory stage. Remember that although you should express your feelings constructively, you have the right to all the emotions you feel.
Following the above advice can allow both you and your loved one to make peace with their passing. As long as you reach out for help when ready, you will be able to receive and provide it for the best possible outcome.
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