Coping with Grief

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Many people are familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance (1969).   However, many people are not aware that Kubler-Ross was not describing the experiences of the grieving left behind after a death, but the those of terminally ill patients facing their own death.  Additionally, later in her life, Kubler-Ross clarified that the Five Stages were not a linear or predicable process.  Following in Kubler-Ross’s footsteps, researchers have developed new models to describe the grieving process of the bereaved.

The Dual Process Model of Grief by Stroebe and Schute (1999) suggestions that grieving is not a linear process with steps to be followed, but a pendular process of swinging back and forth between loss- and restoration-oriented responses to the death of a loved one.  During the loss-oriented phase, the bereaved cope with distressing and painful feelings of sadness, guilt, loneliness, and anger associated with death of a loved one.  During the restoration-oriented phase, the bereaved set aside their strong feelings of loss so they can cope with the stressors of day to day life without their loved one, such as paying bills, caring for children, maintaining a home, or taking on roles and tasks that their loved one once completed.  In this process, there is an oscillation between confronting the feelings associated with grief and avoiding those feelings in order to adjust to a new life.  Stroebe and Schute believed that both loss- and restoration-oriented responses were necessary and important to process grief in a “healthy” way.  The oscillation between confrontation and avoidance allows the bereaved to slowly adjust to their new life over time, to take “time off” from grief in order to preserve their mental and physical well-being.

For some people, dealing with the death of a loved one exceeds their ability to cope.  These individuals are not able to adjust to a life without their loved one.  Instead, their suffering is prolonged and they have difficulty functioning in day to day life.  However, there is hope for these individuals.  Counseling can help those suffering with complicated grief to feel better and function better.

It is important to seek help for individuals who:

  • Yearn or long for their loved one indefinitely
  • Are preoccupied with the circumstances of their loved one’s death
  • Have intense sorrow and emotional distress that does not improve with time
  • Develop distrust in others
  • Become depressed
  • Isolate or detach from others
  • Become unable to pursue interests or activities
  • Have suicidal ideation or wish to join their loved one
  • Feel lonely, empty, or numb
  • Have impairment in socializing, work, or self-care