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THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF

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Grief is an inevitable part of life; it is the dark side of loving and caring about other people. But when a mother loses her child – it is unthinkably painful. The sorrow seems unbearable and never-ending. Yet, it does not last forever. Humans are strong enough to recover from even the deepest mourning. 

It takes time, and you have to go through the five stages, each of which brings new struggles. Marilyn Fox Lewis has been on the path of healing for 6 years now. She shared with us her experience with grieving, and what helped her through these trying times.

My son, Paul, died in 2014 at the age of 45. He died at home alone from complications that arose after he had surgery. Although he had experienced medical problems all of his life, the possibility of him dying was not even on my radar. After all, he always bounced back.  Through his 45 years, he fought through the pain and was still optimistic throughout his life.  I was in shock to hear about Paul’s passing.  It was impossible.  No way!

The anger that I experienced was first at myself for not being intuitive enough, the so-called “Mother’s Six Sense,” to realize that he was sicker than he had professed to be. I asked myself, “Why didn’t I know that he was experiencing internal bleeding?”  “Why hadn’t I just gone to stay with him for a few days instead of listening to him say that he was alright?”  Then I was angry with him for being so stubborn about not following up with the visiting nurse or his doctors. Having been in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices all of his life, he was adamant about not returning to the hospital.

Through my grieving journey, I came to better understand the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.  She was a Swiss-American psychiatrist, a pioneer in near-death studies, and author of the internationally best-selling book, On Death and Dying.  She first discussed her theory of the five stages of grief, also known as the “Kübler-Ross model.”  

According to the noted psychiatrist, people facing death or grieving the loss of a loved one go through five stages of grief. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

  1. In the denial stage, a person finds it hard to believe that their loved one is gone. Whether the loss was quick or took place over a long period of time, it’s difficult to wrap our minds around the finality of death. 
  2. The next stage is anger. Whether it is anger at the individual for leaving us or anger at ourselves for not being able to sustain them longer–anger is there, and it’s real.
  3. Bargaining usually occurs with the realization that the person we love is facing an illness or an accident that may lead to death. We bargain with God in hopes that the outcome will not be death. We make promises that if our loved one lives, we will be a better person, more loving, and kinder.
  4. Depression is the stage that is often the most visible and long-lasting. It’s the stage that tends to cause others around to be uncomfortable. It hovers like a cloud and wraps itself around our minds and hearts like a shroud. It’s not imaginary; it’s real.
  5. The final stage is acceptance. We accept that our loved one is gone, yet that acceptance does not protect us from the waves of grief that can come at any time. 

You see, I did not have a chance to bargain with God for his life. I had prayed that God would protect him all of his life. Now he was gone, and no amount of bargaining would bring him back. Not for a day, not for an hour, not for a minute. He was gone.

When the depression came creeping in, I couldn’t just fall apart. I had to be strong for my family. My children had lost their brother, and I had to somehow be there for them. It felt as though there was a hole in my soul. As people called to express their condolences, it was as though I was in an echo chamber. Even my voice was unreal to me.  That’s was when my bargaining phase started. I begged my Heavenly Father not to let me drown in my sorrow. I pleaded for strength to get through the days that were to come.

For me, acceptance has come in increments.  To acknowledge that he has been gone for six years still does not seem true. That he will be gone forever is still a bitter pill to swallow. I am happiest when friends and family mention him. Seeing pictures of him comforts me. There have been times that I’ve dreamed of him, but not often enough.

Grief in and of itself is immeasurable. No one can dictate just how long an individual’s grief should be or the proper way that it should manifest itself. Grieving is a process that we each must experience. As the song says, our “Heart Will Go On.”

Marilyn Fox Lewis retired from Campus Ministry at Seton Hill University in 2017. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Resources Management and a Master’s in Education. She is a Certified Facilitator of Bridges Out of Poverty. Marilyn is married and has three remaining children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Her hobbies include knitting, crochet, reading, and finding new recipes.  She cherishes being able to encourage others to live their best lives. If you wish to speak to Marilyn, you can email her directly.

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