Understanding and Processing Grief
Understanding grief can be a long, lifelong process. Grief isn’t just about losing a loved one; it can be about a breakup, experiencing a divorce of parents, or ending a chapter of your life that was important to you in any way. What is universal is that at some point in everyone’s lives, they will experience and go through grief, making it a topic that needs to carry a transparent conversation to emphasize its importance and its nuances.
Typically, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. However, nowadays psychologists are starting to categorize these stages more as emotions one will experience during the process rather than stepping stones to acceptance. One day, you might feel angry, the next day depressed, and the day after be straight back in denial. The stages can also look very different for different people. For example, some people never experience denial and will jump straight into anger, while others will spend months in denial before getting close to moving on. You can even be in multiple stages at once. This especially rings true for bargaining, which has a tendency to happen simultaneously with other stages, such as anger and depression. On the other end, some don’t even experience bargaining at all.
The reason there is so much variation is that at the end of the day, grieving is a very individual experience. What you feel and what it’s going to look like will be unique to you. This can sometimes be frustrating, especially if you’re interacting with people who are also grieving. While you might be angry, someone else, like a parent or a sibling, may be in depression. This makes contention between people very likely, which can only add to the stress you are already feeling. It can also be very lonely. Because it’s so individual, it feels like you’re suffering in silence. However, while what you experience will be different, you can connect with people who are going through similar experiences. There is still a community out there who will understand and relate to what you’re going through, and it can feel good to create those connections. Most of the time, these groups are outside of school, however occasionally your school’s counseling center will provide this service. If not, you can always find them by doing some research into private counseling services related to what your specific grieving process is, and go from there.
I went through, and am still going through, the grieving process. My father died four years ago, and coming to terms with his death has been a hard undertaking. I have currently gone through all stages multiple times and am still bouncing around back there. I have days where I still feel stuck in denial, or days where I’m angry at him for dying, or life for taking him away. There were times when I’ve told myself, “Man, I’m enjoying this apple, but I’d give up eating apples forever if he could come back.” What helped me figure out my emotions was talking to people about them, whether that’s my family or friends, or even my own emotional support group. In high school, I was a part of a group of students who had all lost a parent or a sibling, and it helped enormously to be able to talk to people who I knew were going through the exact same thing I was. Most importantly, it showed me that I wasn’t going through this alone.
What is important to remember is that grieving takes time. I struggle with feeling like I should have been done grieving a long time ago, but have realized that I have to let myself feel whatever I am going to feel for however long it takes. You must allow yourself to grieve even when it seems hard. Have bad days, and accept that you have bad days; just because you reach acceptance doesn’t mean that you’ve officially escaped the stages of denial, or anger, or depression. If you do have a day where you feel angry, or depressed even years after you’ve “put the whole thing behind you” that’s okay and understandable. It doesn’t mean that you’ve backslid, but rather, are still figuring out your way around your new life.
However, among all of this, there are good days, too. That doesn’t always excuse the bad moments, but it makes the bad moments more livable. In the week after my dad died, I went ice skating with my cousins and brother, and although I felt fragile, it was a lot of fun. I needed that reminder to continue living my life and appreciate the good times even when I was facing tragedy. It is important to give yourself the space to grieve, but also remember to continue living your life to the fullest.
About the Author
Caileigh is a sophomore at George Washington university where she is studying international affairs with a concentration in global public health. She works as a Capital PEER with her schools health center to provide health services to students and is committed to spreading accurate information on various health topics from mental health to sex education.