I’ve known grief for some time now. The unexpected and certainly unwanted passing of far too many of my loved ones has indeed left its ugly mark. But none of my traumatic losses were the same. Nor were they the same as yours, were they? Yet, it can be human nature to fall prey to the herd mentality when trying to figure out all this nasty grief stuff.
It’s easy to listen to experts and go along with what we’ve heard works well for others. But never let anyone else own your grief. It’s yours and yours alone. Never allow anyone else to say you’re doing it wrong, either, unless you’re physically or emotionally harming yourself or others. Grief healing is a lot like religion. If a particular faith-based belief resonates, makes you feel good, and moves you forward, by all means, go with it. But don’t just sit there and listen while someone else preaches ideals you not only don’t understand but don’t feel right about, either.
Even today, we still hear the Five Stages of Grief model mistakenly thrown around for those of us who lost a loved one. As counseled after the loss, the bereaved are told they’ll surely travel through the emotional stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. Well, the esteemed Dr. Kübler-Ross developed and published this coveted Five Stages study based on her observations of terminally ill patients, not the survivors. We are a whole different ball game, aren’t we?
Almost immediately after the publication of the Five Stages study, however, the vast majority of mental health
professionals and clergy counselors picked up the model and neatly laid it out for loss survivors like it was gospel. And they still do in far too many cases. But we know that the loss of a loved one brings no linear timelines, don’t we? There’s no chronological order where we move systematically through denial to final acceptance, is there? In fact, in our loss of grief, acceptance should be the first stage, not the last. Could it be harmful to a loss survivor to buy into the Five Stages model? Perhaps. It could make a recent griever feel they aren’t progressing if they haven’t yet hit a certain stage, and actually impede their overall healthful healing processes.
Yes, there are positives to the herd mentality for our survival. If you’re standing in a crowd and suddenly everyone else begins to run, well, you might want to run too. At least at first…but that’s up to you. You might be an internal griever, while others say you should express your feelings to the world. You might be emotionally debilitated for some time after your loss, while another newly bereaved soul must find something to occupy all their time and thought. Both are normal and healthy as long, again, as you are not harming yourself or others.
It’s okay to listen to the experts. Go with the herd when it moves you, but only when it is your choice, and it feels right. But do not let anyone else say you’re doing it wrong. Don’t let them own your grief. You do!
Look for Ron’s column every other Wednesday here on WSN-MO. R. Glenn Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org