Five Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief are helpful here.
1. Denial: When people are first told a friend or colleague has died, they find it difficult to take it in. You say to yourself “It can’t be true” or “they’ve made a mistake”. This is completely normal; your brain is just trying to protect you from the pain you know is inevitable. Many people keep talking to the deceased for a long time afterwards because it’s comforting.
Be kind to yourself and others. Attend the funeral, and take part in it if you can. Write a letter of thanks and goodbye to the individual. Attend a memorial service. These are all gentle ways to move yourself and others through denial.
2. Bargaining: There may be a brief period where you or others may express a wish to trade place with the individual who has died, often expressed in “It should have been me”. Another example may be people praying and asking God to bring the person back and take them. This usually doesn’t last very long, but is an intense feeling. Share this with someone close and let them support you through this phase. If you are the support person, don’t panic, but stay close.
3. Anger: Some may experience anger very quickly, while it may become apparent for others much later. Initially the anger is directed at others, perhaps those who broke the news, other members of chambers, or sometimes complete strangers. The feeling of anger may be directed at yourself. For example, feeling perhaps you should have done more. Often, anger may be directed at the deceased for leaving you. You know you are moving through it once you start to feel angry at the deceased. Do not be afraid to express it, perhaps by writing out how you feel or talking about it.
Allow those you are supporting to be angry and to direct it at you, without taking offence. It will pass.
This is a dark and lonely place for people who have come to terms with the feeling of loss. They often withdraw from social activity and isolate themselves. It is ok to withdraw and grieve alone for a short period, but you need to counterintuitively reach out to others at this stage. Share your sadness with good friends and maintain your social connections. Now would be a good time to visit the grave and/or to perform a private ritual for your friend.
You can support people by helping them perform their ritual, if invited to do so, and to be prepared to sit with them when they are down.
5. Acceptance: It often takes 6 months to a year to feel better. By this point you can laugh again, and you can talk about the deceased without crying. Allow this to happen without feeling guilty, which may kick in soon after feeling happy again. Enjoying life again and moving on is what your deceased friend or colleague would want for you, and is the best way to honour their memory.
You may also be familiar with another grief model ‘7 stages of grief’. This is like the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. In the seven stages of grief the initial stage is Shock or Disbelief. There is also the addition of Guilt as a stage.
We used to believe that the stages of grief, outlined above, were worked through sequentially, i.e., one stage, then on to another, and so on. However, as we understand grief and loss much more, we know that people can move backwards and forwards between these stages, or experience one stage more than once. The truth is, grief (other than traumatic loss, which can trigger additional feelings), is a very individual process and everyone has their own ‘normal’, and will work through their feelings at different timescales.
The idea of stages of grief suggests that if one is in one of these stages there is nothing they can do but wait until they pass into the next stage. This is a damaging myth. There are things you can do (see http://www.stages-of-grief-recovery.com/how-to-deal-with-grief.html)
If you are the support person, allow your friend to move through the grief process in their own way. Talk about the deceased, use their name, and encourage the telling of stories about them and looking at photos. Keep reaching out even if the person is reluctant and may be giving you a hard time.
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These resources have been developed with the assistance of Robyn Bradey. Robyn is an Australian Mental Health Accredited Social worker who provides clinical supervision to mental health professionals. She is currently the Mental Health consultant and trainer for the Law Society of NSW, Legal Aid. The ODPP, the CDPP, state and Commonwealth government departments, the tribunals and Ombudsmen, RACS and some law firms.
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