Grief and loss are experienced by everyone at one time or another. Whether a significant and dramatic loss, such as that of a loved one, or a relatively minor loss, such as that of a relationship or opportunity, none of us are immune to the sting of grief and loss. And no two losses are exactly the same. In the face of grief and loss, it is important to have the right perspective in order to grieve properly and to work through the healing process. This article lays out the typical and most accepted stages of grief and loss. These seem to show some continuity of experience between individuals who are working through grief. It will also make a case for why successful grieving with the help of a Christian counselor is one of the surest ways to gain acceptance and healing in the face of grief and loss.
The Five Stages of Grief
Although every loss is unique and distinct, research over the years has identified some common stages of grief that appear to be universal and are experienced by people in all different walks of life. The five stages of normal grieving first proposed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross include denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Each of these stages can bring about different feelings and can make you feel as if you are going through a roller coaster of emotions. It is important to remember that:
- Each stage is completely normal.
- You don’t have to go through any of these stages in any particular order, or at all.
- You do not need to face these emotions on your own.
You Are Not Alone
In the book of Hebrews, the Bible states, “…for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (13:5, ESV) It is important to not let your emotions of grief and loss cloud your remembrance of God’s faithful care for you or His promise to never leave you.
From Denial to Acceptance
While the stages are not always distinct and do not need to follow any particular course, a typical or more common course has been identified. Denial and isolation are often an early reaction to loss as it takes some time for the mind to process significant loss. This often leads to questioning and a desire to be left alone with one’s thoughts. Anger often follows denial as reality sets in and the individual realizes that something or someone has been taken away from them. Bargaining can sometimes follow anger because as the anger promotes a desire for reaction, the natural feeling is that in order to get something back, something needs to be given in exchange. As helplessness sets in around the futility of bargaining, a mild form of depression may result. The final and hopefully end stage of the grieving process is acceptance. This often comes as a result of a proper processing as one learns to understand the loss. It is also accompanied by a plan to move forward in the new reality.
Christian Counseling for Grief and Loss
While the stages of normal grief appear to be universal, this does not mean that everyone gets through these stages properly and comes to a healthy form of acceptance. A few of the problems that can emerge include getting stuck in any one stage of grief, a delayed grief reaction, or an elongated grief reaction. Problems can occur in the grieving process when either isolation or the lack of a healthy social network inhibits the normal grieving process. Christian counseling can be helpful in assisting a grieving person to think about the loss, to discuss the sequence and consequences of events prior to, during, and after the loss, and to explore associated feelings with the spiritual encouragement, prayer, and love of a brother or sister in Christ.
“Back to My Old Life Alone,” by Rachmanuddin Chair Yahya, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “We Wait. We Are Bored,” by Sara, Flickr CreativeCommons, (CC BY 2.0)
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