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 Erdrich, The 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