What Is Grief?

A closeup of a crying woman's eye with a tear

grief, according to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross follows fivesteps: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We do not go through these steps sequentially, or one at a time. We may move forward, then step back into a previous phase.

In the denial and isolation phase, the person suffering grief usually talks about the future, avoids family and friends, and avoids talking about the incident. People in this stage can best be helped through nonjudgemental acceptance of their behavior, not taking their actions personally, and listening when they wish to talk.

In the anger phase, the person suffering from grief becomes angry that this occurred. They may question why this happened to them, they may begin to question their religious beliefs, and may become angry with family, friends, and those attempting tosupport them. The best support that can be given to people in this situation requires remembering that anger is not directed at a person but at the situation, remembering how you would feel in the situation, understanding that this is a natural progression in the process of change and healing, and not allowing the person to alienate you.

In the bargaining stage of grief, the person will attempt to make a promise, or bargain with god to change their lives if they or another person is allowed to live. The main support that can be given is to listen to the person, as what they are bargaining may be a long held guilt or fear that they would like to rid themselves of.

The depression phase of grief occurs when the realization comes that the person really has died, or will die. While “cheering up” a person may help somewhat, allowing them toexpress themselves and their feelings through just being there and listening may be the most beneficial actions that can be taken. They can draw support merely from your presence.

Finally, in the acceptance phase of grief, the person turns more introspective, and comes at last to grips with the death.

Sudden death raises additional issues for the bereaved person. They are more shocked and confused initially. They are notprepared for the death. There was no foreseeable reason for the death. They may be faced with the involvement of more organizations such as the police, coroner, and media. There may be difficulty in obtaining a body for a funeral and gaining closure in that manner. In this way, grief becomes more complex.

General ideas for helping the bereaved include: Accepting silence, encouraging them to talk about the deceased person, accept that tears are normal and healthy, know that grief may take years to work through, don’t use cliché’s such as “think of all of the good times”, and remember that you cannot make them happy.

Derek Wood is a Nationally Board Certified Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse, and holds a Master's degree in Psychology. His experience in the online arena of mental health can be traced back to 1997, when he was a host for Online Psych on AOL. He joined Get Mental Help, Inc. as Clinical Content Director for Mental Health Matters. Derek, with his wife Lisa, developed the original version of psychTracker (then called A Mood Journal), after his diagnosis with Schizo-Affective Bipolar, when they could not find a system available that was robust enough to help him effectively manage his symptoms and accurately interpret his charting. Derek has worked in the field of mental health since 2001, as a Unit Manager of an adult long-term treatment facility, a charge nurse in an adolescent short-term inpatient facility and long-term residential facility, and as a School Psychologist. He has also written several articles which are being used as CEU for nurses and educators.

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