Grief is a multi-faceted state that is integral to the human condition. Not a single person on earth escapes the hands of grief. As surely as our animated existence on earth ends with our death, we must also meet with grief at many stages during our life.
Our current understanding of grief derives from the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler. They created the widely accepted framework describing the five stages one experiences as part of their grieving process:
Stage One: Denial
Denial helps us to cope with the many feelings of grief that arise. Denial is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.
Stage Two: Anger
When we are grief stricken, we feel a sense of nothingness that comes with loss. Anger is a prominent emotion that arises, which gives temporary structure to the “nothingness” or void that is felt while grieving. Underlying the projection of anger is a seeking for connection or something to hold onto.
Stage Three: Bargaining
We descend into and emerge from bargaining often during the grieving process. We look for blame in ourselves for the loss and plead for things to be returned to “the way they were”, if we can change ourselves or right the wrong.
Stage Four: Depression
The deep sense of loneliness, sadness, and emptiness that accompanies grief is a normal part of the healing process. It is not the “clinical” depression we associate with mental illness, and is a necessary step along our path back to joy.
Stage Five: Acceptance
This step is about coming to full acceptance that your loved one is physically gone, and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we like the new reality and that we are ok. It is the beginning to live life again by adjusting, re-organizing, making new connections and new inter-dependencies.
Knowing the stages of grief and how we move between the various stages in a nonlinear fashion, we become empowered with the tools to broaden our awareness of where healing is needed.
As I am grieving several losses at once, I observe myself shifting between the various stages. Experiencing the acute and bitter anger, while feeling the sadness that accompanies depression.
Under the guidance of my shaman, I created sand-painting altars through a year’s worth of grieving. These sand paintings helped me to shift my perspective about the anger phase of my grief and brought about a greater sense of acceptance. It’s been a process that started with the full solar eclipse in the summer of 2017. Good thing energy has patience! We humans seem to want it now!
By: Joan Tryba and Darren Santos