Death; it forces us to endure some of the harshest pain imaginable, as well as forces those who experience the related grief, to ironically evaluate life in ways one may have never else wise considered. At the same time, there is no easy answer, or quick fix to help someone who suffers a loss. Exacerbating the subject is the fact that grieving is a very complex, and extremely personal experience.
With that said, I am no stranger to suffering the death of a loved one, having lost my first husband in 1989, both of my beloved grandmothers six months apart in 2000, and one of my best friends of almost 30 years, in 2007. Although each loss was dramatically, and painfully different from the other, it was through the grieving process as a whole, that I have come to develop my own theory, or model if you will, which consists of two distinct phases: Coping and Dealing.
Before I delve into my observations and explanation of the phases, I do want to acknowledge the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle model. The Kubler-Ross theory consists of five steps: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. On a side note, Kubler-Ross believes that these stages can be cross-referenced and applied to other life situations aside from death which cause extreme personal change and emotional upheaval.
Based on personal experience, I do think that Kubler-Ross’s theory is certainly valid, but have found that it is more of an emotional outline, broken-down into key psychological and psychosocial elements that help with understanding the turmoil that a person may face. I have applied this model to my experiences, but have again, developed my own theory after incorporating some of Kubler-Ross’s stages into it.
Breaking it down into very simple terms, the two phases that make up my theory are “coping” with death or crisis, and “dealing” with death, or crisis. For sake of explanation, I refer to the first stage as The Coping Phase, followed by the second, Enlightened Grieving Phase (or the ‘Dealing’ Phase).
A brief synopsis will show that Stage I primarily encompasses most of the Kubler-Ross model (denial, anger, bargaining, depression), with Stage II predominantly focusing on the aspect of acceptance and moving forward. Additional areas that I incorporate into my own theory are overlapping concepts, which consist of communication, spirituality and hope.
Coping and dealing: So what’s the big difference?
For some, coping and dealing may appear to be one in the same, yet are entirely different. In the early stages of grieving, especially in circumstances of unexpected, or untimely death and/or crisis, life is a matter of survival. The bottom line is that one struggles to merely cope with the death or crisis, and get through each day. Phase I portrays the individual as in the “present moment”, whereas projection into the future, or any thought of such, is often viewed as frightening, intimidating and to some, unnecessary. Phase I is painful, tedious and exhausting.
The Coping Phase begins at the immediate time of loss and the duration is entirely dependent upon a variety of factors including physical, mental and emotional stability of the individual, before and during the onset of their loss. Someone who has not been very stable prior to a loss or crisis, runs the risk of having a very difficult time processing the circumstances and/or events. On the other hand, someone who carries more reason may better adapt to the trauma.
Another impact on this phase and its duration would be the direct, or indirect relationship that the mourner and decedent had shared. Obviously, the more direct a relationship (i.e. parent/child), the more difficult a situation and longer of a transition time from Phase I, into Phase II. An interesting phenomenon may occur however, in cases where there may be no-known relationship but the impact of a death or crisis can profoundly influence total strangers. This would apply to high-profile individuals, or celebrities, or public persona whom have attracted a following, or have through time, captured the attention of millions worldwide. Either way, the immediate relationship should be used as a recovery gauge.
As for transitioning from Phase I, to Phase II; this can only begin upon realization and acceptance of the death and/or crisis. With this transition comes a shift in personal behaviors and attitudes of the survivor, which paves the way for an enlightened period of grieving that will indeed last, for the remainder of their lifetime. It may be signaled by an epiphany, a memory, an event, or something else that ‘flips’ the mind’s switch and makes one see that they are ready to deal with the death or crisis, and no longer need to exist in cope-mode.
Phase I: Coping Phase
As stated above, the Coping Phase begins immediately upon learning of the death, or upon initial impact of crisis. It involves the daily, sometimes even moment-to-moment struggle in which the surviving individual plunges into. I refer to this immediacy as a “private hell” – an onslaught of emotions and behaviors upon the individual whom has been subjected to a loss or crisis.
Private hell is something that nobody else but the affected individual can feel. It is a summary of every fiber within the physical and emotional self that is exposed to the chaos and turmoil impacting that person as a result of the death, or crisis. Although others may be able to identify with someone’s private hell, they truly do not have any clue as to what specifically, that individual is experiencing.
In many ways, survivors grapple with finding simple strength and energy. More times than not, they are overwhelmed with question, yet jaded by too few answers. They are shocked, feel alienated and at times are in denial, with some experiencing ‘survivor’s guilt’ (noted in the Kubler-Ross model). It’s a brutal road to travel and takes a tremendous amount of courage, faith and strength to prevail. During the Coping Phase, one must rely on their spirituality as a pillar towards rebuilding and reshaping the future.
There is also a need to be surrounded by family, friends and strangers. Even in the most private moments of anguish and bereavement, when there seems to be no strength to muster one’s self out of bed, there are people who will come into one’s life to help make the transition to the second phase. Some of these people may already be present, while others may have no direct association, but the common bond in which they share is their ability to help with their healing energy. I refer to these people, who even if by prayer alone, come into a survivor’s life as Living Angels.
Some Living Angels have different missions; they can bring food to the door, help tend to family needs, or assist with planning services, while others may come into one’s life to listen and pray. Living Angels surround us with the light, or healing energy that will be needed in the days and years, to follow. They are also of significant importance for a grieving individual’s ability to transition into Phase II.
Being such an intense, personal experience, it is no wonder that a grieving person has a tendency to be somewhat selfish. In times of grief and crisis, feelings are deeply hurt – if not devastated – and there is little room to reason as to why a loved one may have been taken away. During the Coping Phase, one tends to feel as though they have been deprived, or robbed of love and joy, with some believing that they will never again, find happiness. What is critical for the survivor and the Living Angels to realize is that these are normal thoughts following a tragedy or crisis. It is the job of Living Angel to instill a sense of comfort and understanding relative to these emotions and behaviors, which ultimately should lead to Phase II, or Enlightened Grieving.
Throughout Phase I, it is also important for every individual to adjust to the changes brought about by their loss, or crisis. They must be vigilant of their own emotions and behaviors and learn not be so hard on themselves. Referring again to the Kubler-Ross Model, the emotional and physical aspects during the most intense period of grief can be overwhelming. In varying degrees, denial, anger, bargaining and depression may consume an individual but caution needs to be exercised as not to allow those emotions to lead to self-destructive behaviors. The long-term goal is for every person to reconfigure their life and adjust to the impact of the loss, and its effects on both the internal and external self without causing harm to him/her self, or anyone else in the process.
Partly instinctual, a mourner in the Coping Phase adapts to shortcuts and skills that they need to perform basic, daily functions. In time, the individual needs to learn, and be shown, how to deal with their feelings, by making positive changes. It never happens overnight, and it will not occur unless the individual recognizes that they hold the power to change.
Overlapping Concepts: Communication, Spirituality & Hope
Communication – Perhaps one of the best ways that one can immediately begin to help him/her self, is by talking about their feelings. Grieving individuals, or persons in crisis should not internalize their feelings, nor believe that they are a bother to anyone. As a matter of fact, the more an individual represses their feelings, the more harm they are going to cause themselves. This is where self-help, support groups and therapy can be extremely beneficial. One must always consider sources that have both a realistic and positive impact upon them. By all means, avoid communication with anyone who is negative or hurtful while in such a vulnerable state.
Remember, communication or expressing one’s feelings, is not only a key to both phases, but is one of the critical elements of healing. Communication should include discussion of how the individual feels about their loved one and the impact they or the situation, has had on life. They should not worry about being repetitive, nor worry about being judged. Every individual is entitled to their thoughts and feelings while mourning or going through crisis and should never have to validate that pain to anyone. Living Angels and Spirit Guides know this.
Spirituality – As discussed in a previous post, I firmly believe that spirituality is something that every human being is born with. Spirituality grows through life experience, and through such experiences of loss and crisis, will be a guiding force. Most of the time, and during especially difficult situations, an individual may question their faith, or even feel as though their faith let them down. Faith, or a religious venue, may also harbor a painful reminder via memories of ceremony (i.e. weddings, funerals), which can cause additional internal conflict and distress. This is where one must see beyond the pain and understand they are not alone; there is a way to get through this.
As soon as one is able, they must dig deeply and let their spirituality both lead the way, and be a pillar for the future. Spirituality does not ‘fail’ an individual, but will help one grow through the experience, as difficult as it may be. Praying and taking time to acknowledge blessings is going to help as well. Spirituality will provide strength when one feels they are at their weakest, and will carry him/her as far as they can go, but they must be willing.
When one lets go of trying to fight the changes brought about by death and loss, the spiritual self will direct the individual towards a path to healing. Eventually, the individual needs to stop asking ‘why’, and understand that more so in times of loss, there is nothing that can be done to change the outcome. Yes, death is the end of the physical self, but accepting that a loved one’s spirit will live on, and that life goes on, will help with the transition into the second phase of grieving and loss. Spiritually, every person is equipped with this knowledge, they just have to let go, allow God and their spiritual self, to take the wheel.
Hope – An indication that an individual is living in the spiritual self and has become spiritually aware is a renewed sense of energy and hope. Holding onto tomorrow, even when today can seem like a massive cluster, is what every person needs to focus on. In turn, hope stems from allowing spirituality to take the reins. As horrific and tragic as the moment may seem, tomorrow is around the corner and there are people who are able to help.
Hope is like a fountain that is constantly being replenished from the spiritual spring. Even when it may appear to run dry, the source of that spiritual spring will carry-on and bring forth awareness that tomorrow is a new day filled with new possibilities and potential for new-found happiness. Hope fuels the spirit and has no boundaries despite any current or past desperation. Hope has the ability to change and transition, so long as one is attuned to their spirituality.
Once a grieving individual, or person in crisis works through the array of emotions brought about by their loss or situation, and only when they learn to communicate, will their spirituality guide them into Phase II: Enlightened Grieving. There is a profound difference in one’s life when they transition from coping, to dealing. Sleepless nights and exhausting days are replaced with more restful slumber and waking productivity; “I can’t do this”, becomes “I am going to be OK.”
Phase II: Enlightened Grieving (i.e. The Dealing Phase)
Enlightened Grieving is achieved when one has successfully managed to cope with their loss or crisis via awareness and acceptance. Respectively, acceptance cannot be truly achieved until communication, spirituality and hope are in the balance of daily life and function.
Acceptance is typically precipitated by deep soul-searching and time. It is the realization that one is ready to begin rebuilding or reconstructing their life by incorporating, yet not forgetting the death or crisis which took place. Acceptance comes with a sense of purpose, renewed strength, determination and awareness of the past, present and future and the understanding that as unfortunate as circumstances may have been, or how devastated one may have felt, the experiences will be part of them forever, but will not identify who they are. The individual is able to ‘deal’ with the situation for the remainder of their life, in ways that are healthy and productive.
During this phase, individual insight and clarity surface. The individual is once more engaging in activities with friends, family and at the workplace; living socially and spiritually, on a daily basis. By doing so, the individual is letting go of the pain and replacing it with reassurance and hope for tomorrow, making positive, realistic changes to better their lives.
Acceptance also draws upon the acknowledgement and awareness of one’s Living Angels, and the healing energy in which those Angels have poured into one’s spiritual self. Awareness too, for the strength one has gained through acts of kindness and prayer by loved ones and strangers alike. It is a time be thankful, as well as to see just how blessed one is.
Finally, Enlightened Grieving is something that will remain with the individual for the rest of their lives. It is a functional type of grieving fed by the stream of hope. Enlightened Grieving brings forth the awareness and acceptance of the death, loss or crisis and incorporates it into daily life as a reminder of where one has been, and how strong one has become through the experience. Enlightened Grieving never prompts the question of ‘why’ but shows one ‘how’. Once attained, it is permanent and never ceases, yet changes and makes life more tolerable with each new day.
Enlightened Grieving is an all-encompassing way of living. It is referenced during future incidents of loss and crisis, and has the ability to instill more strength when needed, even to help give healing energy to others in need. Enlightened Grieving is a silent understanding of the living spirit in which the pain one has suffered and endured from loss does not ever go away, but does not have to consume every breath, or waking moment. It also brings an extremely poignant element of awareness that the loss did not take away a piece of the individual, but planted a permanent memory of the loved one deep within the soul of the living. This memory is signaled by that deep pang felt in the center of the heart; that deep pang is called love.
Enlightened Grieving allows an individual the opportunity to take that love and let it live through example in life and spirit. It gives every human being a gift to share by making positive changes in their environment, and in the world as they know. By doing so, the memories of loved ones will continue to live on. The memory of a loved one never truly dies, for their love – that twinge felt deep within the heart – serves as a reminder that they are with us all of the time, tucked away and guiding us by changing lives, with their love.
Be strong in spirit,
If you, or anyone you may know have threatened suicide, or are suicidal, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, or call: 1-800-273-TALK.