Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Real Stages of Grief Recovery

The stages of Death and Dying evolved by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are often mis-identified as The Stages of Grief Recovery. In her schema, she came up with 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression and 5) acceptance as reactions to a diagnosis of terminal illness. Her stages only make sense when considered against that backdrop. As such, this configuration has nothing to do with the stages of grief recovery.

Looking back over my 25 years of therapeutic experience dealing with hundreds of individuals and families going through grief and loss and a review of the currently available data I have come up with 4 stages of Grief Recovery. Kubler-Ross' stages do not fit this paradigm even though they are often mistaken as the quintessential guideline. For those of you seeking grief recovery the following stages are what you can expect.

1) Numbness and Shock: - We hear the news about the death of a loved one and our mind goes into shock. The news is too unbelievable, too hard to digest in one sitting. Numbness enters the picture because our mind is still reeling from the news as our body goes into a state of emotional numbness. We try desperately to process this terrible news. Simple tasks now feel overwhelming. Feelings of disorientation and displacement are common. Some have described this as a dreamlike state where you feel disconnected from events and people around you. Funeral arrangements and other issues are accomplished mechanically.

Stage 2 - Disintegration and Disorientation: The initial shock of losing a loved one begins to settle down and we are now faced with the deeper feelings of grief and bereavement. Emotional disintegration, which feels like "falling apart" enters the picture as the reality of the loss hits us hard. Physical reactions such as sleeplessness and loss of appetite are not uncommon and need to be taken up with your family doctor. On the emotional side, feelings of confusion, anxiety, anger and depression may now begin to surface. These deeper reactions are your body and mind's way of trying to release stress. Grief recovery means working through these reactions over time.

Stage 3) Bereavement and Grief Recovery - Once you are past the shock and have started to come out of disorganization, bereavement and grief recovery can begin in earnest. You can now make full use of your grief recovery resources including books, audio books, healing music and grief counseling. These days, you can be part of an online support group where sharing is the by-word and all persons there are eager and ready to listen and help each other recover. You are not alone, unless you choose to be. And you are not a victim, unless you choose that as well!

Stage 4 - Coming Back Together / Reintegration - You've been following an action plan laid out in your favored grief resources. A good book, counselor or support group has provided a set of guidelines to follow and you realize this journey of recovery is manageable. Books, audio resources, counseling and support groups provided the framework to recovery you've been looking for. Your action steps bear fruit. You notice a little less emotional tenderness with each passing day and more of your old self returning. Your life has changed. You've lost a valued loved one. The pain at times felt unbearable. But you are past that now and your grief recovery is near the end.

These are the stages of grief recovery as I have come to know them after 25 years of helping hundreds of individuals, couples and families come to terms with Murder Grief, Suicide Grief, Relationship Grief, Loss of a Parent, Loss of a Child and Loss of a Spouse. I have also dealt with many losses in my own life including a best friend, mother, favorite brother-in-law, special uncle and other family members and acquaintances.

For a successful grief recovery I recommend the following: 1) Acquire a good reading and/or audio book resource that you can access whenever you want and need to, something that will provide support and guidance as you work your way through the necessary grief recovery action steps. 2) Check out any support groups in your area. This will help eliminate the feeling that you are alone and will normalize your recovery experience.

3) Sometimes local groups are not available. Not to worry because online Grief Support Networks are plentiful. Just do a search for "Grief Support Online" and numerous choices will be available to you. Again, the main benefit is community and a sense of belonging. There is no need to go through grief alone or suffer for an extended period of time. Share your story with others and listen to theirs. This helps you both. 4) If necessary see a therapist. Some of your early experiences may be too overwhelming or confusing. See an expert. He or she will help you get on track with a tailor made grief recovery program.

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