Before we get into the phases of grief, it’s important to understand, what is a bereavement?
Bereavement can be defined as the loss of someone close to you, or the loss of a loved one. The grief experienced is the response to that loss.
So in this context grief and loss is a process which can be considered permanent. There will always be an element of loss. But, grief does change over time. There are a series of emotions experienced, even though there will always be a reaction of some kind to losing someone we love.
Stages of grieving
There are stages of grieving which is comforting to people as they see themselves or others moving through these phases or stages in an ordered way. It helps us understand and contain the chaos of grief if we have five jobs to do. We’ve discussed these in more detail, here.
However, this breakdown of the various stages of grief implies there is a particular order to dealing with grief and that grieving is a linear model where in fact we know that grief is a roller coaster with good and bad days being unpredictable.
In this video, they discuss how grief can be conceptualised:
1. Acute grief (grief shock).
The initial stages of grief which usually begins shortly after the death of a loved one. However, in the case of long term, terminal illnesses such as cancer or alzheimer’s, it is not unusual for the grief to start even before our loved ones have died. Many people feel guilt at grieving for the terminally ill prior to their death. This is a normal part of our acceptance. We should expect to behave in this way. It is misunderstood sometimes as being disloyal, but mourning is distinct to individuals and everyone’s process is valid.
Acute grief can include a whole host of experiences that you have never encountered before and you may feel vulnerable in a way you have never felt before. Grief postulates a series of emotions which are deep rooted such as a need to reconnect with the loved one that we have lost or are losing.
This can be overwhelming and you may feel significant emotional pain that can feel physical pain. There may be physical pain that you’ve never felt before such as fogginess and dizziness, heart palpitations and feelings of unreality and denial.
In this phase you may have frequently distracting thoughts about your loved ones. You may have issues concentrating on things that you would normally have been fine with. When we’re grieving our brain is less concerned with remembering normal day to day things. Consequently small things that were previously easy are suddenly more complicated. We find ourselves bargaining guilt, dealing with anger or slipping into an emotional tumble. This could lead to depression later on.
2. Integrated grief.
This is the enduring residual form of grief. In this the reality and meaning of the death are gradually understood. We meet a period of coping and acceptance. This is when we’re able to start moving forward again with enjoying ourselves and forming meaningful relationships.
Integrated grief does not mean that we forget about our loved one, we don’t miss them any less or stop experiencing sadness when we think about them. But, when we deal with integrated grief we’re able to find a way to feel connected to our loved one. Without them needing to be a physical presence in our lives.
We’re able to start to enjoy our life again without the thought of our loved one being constantly on our minds. However, there may be periods when acute grief and grieving re-emerges and it’s common. It can occur around the times of significant dates, e.g. holidays and birthdays, another loss, general life stress etc. But, when we hit the integrated grief phase, we’re understanding and beginning our process of healing.
A number of people may suffer with prolonged grief which is a timeline of an extended period of acute grief with complicated features which impede the restructuring process necessary for integrated grief.
To grieve is the natural process to help us adapt, and with other natural processes they don’t always run smoothly and so complicated grief can go on for years without the intensity of the grief decreasing.
If you’re suffering from complicated grief then you should consult with your GP who can refer you to a clinical psychologist with experience in complicated or prolonged grief.
If you’d like to book a grief therapy experience, you can do this here.