The five stages of grief

You expect to quit a job, not get fired from it.

You expect to be married to your partner for the rest of your life, not end up filing for divorce.

You expect to fall pregnant with ease, not to have to go through numerous rounds of fertility treatments and miscarriages along the way.

You expect to bring up a healthy child, not to have to choose the music for her funeral.

You expect to have your family around for support and love, not to be alienated from them.

You expect to live a long and healthy life, not to be diagnosed with some awful disease.

Reality very seldom lives up to the expectations you have for it, so when life hands you disappointments, losses and grief you are often caught off guard. There was no class in school to teach you about emotional resilience, and the word grief is mainly associated with death, so you don’t even recognize when you are grieving for reasons other than someone dying.

Grief, by definition, is the natural response to any type of loss or major change in life. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone is gone. Normally we think of death, divorce, maybe losing a pet or moving far away from home, but there are also subtle losses like losing your self-esteem or self-confidence, losing your health or wellbeing, or experiencing a financial change. It can be the loss of a job or the loss of a role like the “stay-at-home mum” when your kids move away from home. Grief and loss events are part of life; there is unfortunately no way around that.

Let’s take a closer look at the five stages of grief established by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. 

First, let me point out the misconceptions about these five stages. People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months, but there is no linear quality to these stages. The stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours, and we tend to flip in and out, back and forth among the different stages.

1. Denial. The world becomes meaningless and overwhelming; life no longer makes sense. You are in a state of shock and numbness and you are just trying to find a way to cope and get through the day. Denial doesn’t mean that you “forget” what has happened; it’s simply nature’s way of pacing the grief experience by only letting in as much as you can handle at that point.

2. Anger. Anger actually forces you to feel something again. It replaces the numbness; gives you structure and even if it’s really uncomfortable to show your anger, it’s an important part of the healing process.

3. Bargaining. This is where all the “What if…” and “If only…” statements appear. You want life returned to what it was. You want to go back in time and change the outcome. Guilt is often a companion in the bargaining stage, as you question whether you could have stopped the event from happening, whether an illness, accident, getting fired from a job or being left by your partner.

4. Depression. The feeling of grief enters on a deeper level, deeper than you ever imagined possible, and it feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. The loss of life as you knew it is depressing, and it’s completely normal to be feeling this way. There is nothing to fix or medicate away; more importantly, you should find support to deal with it in a healthy way if you feel that you are stuck in this depression stage for too long. It can be through friends, loved ones, colleagues, or professional help.

5. Acceptance. Acceptance is often confused with being “OK” with what has happened, but this is not really the case. Of course you will never feel “OK” with losing a loved one, your safety, or your health. It has more to do with the realization that life will never be the same again. There will always be a “before” and an “after.” Acceptance is more about learning to live with it. It means that you have to readjust, reorganize roles, and refocus your goals and dreams in life. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you can replace what has been lost; it means that you are given the chance of finding new meaning and joy in life.

It might sound almost impossible to reach the stage of acceptance, but that is where you take back your power over your emotional wellbeing. Instead of repeating the question “Why did this happen?” (trust me, you will never get a decent answer to that question) start asking yourself the following questions:

What am I learning from this experience? In what way can it inspire me to change my life for the better?

So who am I to tell you to accept and let go?

On the 16th of December 2006, we were given the diagnosis for our three-month old daughter Ingrid, and it was bad. Spinal muscular atrophy type 1, a deadly genetic disease that we had never, ever heard of, just smashed our lives to pieces. The doctor explained that most babies with this disease live to the age of eight months, so we were given a maximum of five more months to be with our child.

It felt like my life had ended. Not only did I lose my child, but I also lost the hopes and dreams of us being a little family and watching her grow up. I lost trust in life and my ability to have a healthy child. I lost my role as a mother, as I no longer had physical proof of a child. I lost my social life, as I no longer joined the mummy groups I had attended with Ingrid.

In my case, my ability to accept and let go of the emotional pain opened up a new path of helping others in healing their hearts and trusting life again. Grief is complex, but by healing your emotional pain you can open up for a life filled with love, connection, joy and possibilities. If I could, you can, too.

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. ― Louise ErdrichThe Painted Drum LP

By Karin Andersson Hagelin

Karin Andersson Hagelin is a certified EFT Tapping practitioner and Grief Recovery Specialist®, running her coaching practice via Skype or in person in Zurich. She is of Swedish origin but has been living in Zürich since 2005. To find out more, connect with her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/karinanderssonhagelin), Instagram (instagram.com/karin_lifecrisis_coach) or visit her website.

This article was first featured in Mothering Matters, October 2015

How to use EFT tapping with children

My soon-to-be-seven-year-old daughter had decided that it would be a fabulous idea to grab one of the bed mattresses and use it a sledge to speed down the stairs. Instead of gracefully sliding down, she was flung off the mattress mid-way down and crash-landed at the bottom of the stairs, screaming from shock and pain. Both her elbows and knees were badly bruised and she had a small cut on her hip.

The number one First Aid in our household is Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), or Tapping, a fabulous technique I picked up as I was searching for something that would resolve trauma and grief in my work as a Grief Recovery Specialist. Little did I know how useful it would be in my own life!

I sat with my daughter on the stairs, gently EFT tapping the top of my daughter’s head and on her chest (two of the official eight tapping points, more on that later), while she tearfully told me the whole story of what happened. We sat like that for a few minutes, talking, tapping and hugging. Then all of a sudden she looked up at me and said, “Thanks Mum, now I feel a lot better!” and rushed off.

In pre-EFT times, a drama like that would have kept going for up to an hour or more. EFT also comes in handy when my kids are worried or upset about something, sad about what someone has said or done in school, upset with Mummy or Daddy, or too restless to fall asleep.

We use EFT for working on the emotions of the parents as well! We have found that it is fantastic for calming down an angry Mummy! There are occasions when “normal” Mum has been replaced by a screaming, slightly hysterical lunatic (I hate to admit it, but this happens to me every now and then), and tapping comes to the rescue! It is so ingrained in my kids that they actually just look at me and say calmly, “Mum, why don’t you go tap for a while?” Clever kids!

 

So what does EFT actually do?

Emotional Freedom Techniques is a type of meridian tapping that combines ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology with startling results. You could say that it’s like acupuncture without the needles.

Simply explained, EFT helps the body’s stress response (fight-or-flight response) to stop, and it re-balances the emotional and hormonal states in the body. You only need to try it out for a couple of minutes and you will notice how the body relaxes. Why don’t you give it a go right now?

Start by thinking about something that recently upset you, notice the feelings in your body and give the level of frustration/anger/sadness a number on a scale from zero to 10. Write the number down on a piece of paper.

Then start tapping lightly on the side of your hand known as the karate chop point (see diagram below), and breathe. Just tap, breathe, and notice what happens in your body as you are thinking about the situation or issue you chose. It could be anything from physical pain, irritation, frustration, sadness, worry or the feeling of not being in control over a life situation. Continue tapping seven or eight times on each point as seen on the below picture. The tapping pressure is the same as if you would “drum” your fingers on a flat surface.

Do two rounds of tapping, then go back and focus on the situation or issue again and give it a number again. How upsetting does it make you to think about it now? Has it gone up or down? If it has gone up, continue tapping for a few more rounds until you feel more relaxed.

Remember to focus on the negative feeling – that’s the point of it all, even if it feels really odd. We have been trained to only think positively, repressing and pushing all the “bad feelings” further and further down.

We pass this “coping strategy” on to our children as they mirror how we, the parents, handle our emotions. My belief is that children learn from what they see and not from what they are told. I always start by teaching EFT tapping to the parents so they have access to the tool and start using it in their everyday lives. I recommend tapping on the top of the head and collarbone points as they are easily accessible and give a soothing effect immediately.

Let’s use an example from my own life again. I was out on the balcony emptying a huge flowerpot, which slipped out of my hands and onto my big toe. I was barefoot, so it felt like I had broken my toe! My first reaction was to get to the sofa, put my foot high and start tapping, crying and cursing (a lot). My daughter came to the rescue, putting a little band aid on it, bless her!  I kept tapping for about 15 minutes, as that was all the time I could allow myself to lie down. I was alone with two kids at home, one due for dance class in less than an hour. Even as a certified EFT practitioner, I must admit that I was very sceptical whether EFT would indeed heal a badly bruised toe. I mean, surely not! Well, 30 minutes later I was on my kick-bike heading for dance class with NO PAIN in my toe.  And it stayed pain free. To this day I refer to that event whenever one of my kids gets hurt and refuses EFT as a first aid treatment. They then immediately ask me to start tapping!

Here is what Gary Craig, the founder of EFT, says on the topic of EFT for children:

As the child tells the story s/he is clearly “tuned into” the problem. Thus tapping on the EFT points is likely to resolve the issues or, at the very least, lighten their impacts on the child.

This is critical for children because they are constantly picking up “stuff” from parents, teachers, peers, television and so on. These inputs go on daily and accumulate over the years to fill what we adults often call our “emotional garbage bags.” If these inputs go unresolved, of course, they form unnecessary “limits” and thwart the attainment of our true potentials. These unnecessary fears, guilts, griefs and traumas often have a thunderous effect on our “adult realities” and cost us dearly in both our personal peace and our pocketbooks…. (Gary Craig, www.emofree.com)

By Karin Hagelin Andersson

Karin Andersson Hagelin is a trained EFT Tapping practitioner & Grief Recovery Specialist®, running her coaching practice via Skype or in person . She is of Swedish origin but has been living in Zürich since 2005. To find out more, like her on Facebook or visit her website www.hagelingriefrecovery.com.

This article was originally featured in Mothering Matters, February 2015