How do we deal with grief in a world that does not understand

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with the five stages of grief in her book “On Death and Dying”in 1969. Often these stages are seen as stages that have to be achieved in a specific order.


However, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross herself said that they are cyclical and at any point one can experience them at different times and not in order.


Her work is very important to help us make sense of grief but the use of the word “stages” has sometimes been misunderstood and misused.


How do we deal with grief in a world that does not understand? In a world that wants us to “move on” and appear happy…in a world that would very much like us to be able to tick off the stages of grief.



It’s not linear, it’s a process


Grief ebbs and flows, it is not linear and we cannot tick it off the list. It’s cyclical and comes and goes. So, how do we deal with it?


It can affect us in very different ways and there is not one way of grieving. Remember that you are not alone. For example, you might want to cry all the time or you might not be able to cry at all. Two very different but equally valid experiences of grief.


The pain can feel like it’s never going to end and that you have lost a physical part of yourself. It’s hard to keep in mind that this experience will change and feel less frightening and upsetting.


Is counselling the answer?


Can counselling stop the gnawing pain of grief? Will counselling help you fix the grief for you? No, it won’t help "fix" the grief.


What counselling can do for you is offer you a space where you can be sad, angry, disappointed and frustrated, admit that you miss them, and admit that you are angry with them for leaving you or for all the things that you feel they did wrong by you.


A space where you can say to them all the things you wish you had time to tell them.


In a world that does not understand and expects you to move on, this space is very important. In a culture that allows about two weeks of socially acceptable sadness and grief, counselling can help create a safe space where you can allow your pain to overflow and be messy.



How can we grow around grief?


You may have heard the phrase “grow around your grief”. It comes from grief counsellor, Lois Tonkin, who says that we grow around our grief and our grief remains the same.


This expectation that our grief will shrink or disappear is unrealistic and puts undue pressure to move on or force the shrinking of our pain.


Grief remains the same because we cannot undo the loss we have suffered. The change comes from life around us that continues to embrace our pain and our grief and we grow around it. Our life will continue but will include our loss and our grief.


One of the reasons we grow around our grief is because our grief represents the loved one we lost. By telling people to move one, we are telling them to forget their loved ones.


But why does society want us to move on?


There seems to be a lot of judgement about how people grieve and how they should grieve. I have clients who tell me that they did not feel like crying at someone’s funeral and they feel so guilty about it as if they have grieved or attended the funeral the wrong way. How we grieve depends on our individuality but also on our relationship with the person we have lost.


Society does not want to talk about pain because it’s….painful. We have become so busy that we think we have no time to be talking about painful feelings.


And if you suddenly feel overwhelmed and upset because you have just been reminded of your loved ones, it does not mean that you are about to unravel or feel incapable of functioning. It means that you are experiencing intense emotions and you’d like to express them.


The truth is that no one can take the pain away or make it better. All we can do is stay with the pain and be kind.


Further help


If you you’d like some help Cruse Bereavement can be contacted on 0808 808 1677 or the Samaritans on 116 123.


If you'd like some help writing things down and processing your thoughts and feelings, you can read my blog on Journaling and how it can help you.

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