THE 5 STAGES OF GRIEF
There is no right or wrong way to react to a death. Often the reaction is associated with the circumstances surrounding the death. The 5 stages of loss and grief are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life. Mourning can occur in response to the death of a loved one. Not all 5 stages are experienced by everyone.
Our first reaction to learning of the death of a loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to help us rationalise overwhelming emotions. It is also a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial begin to wear, reality and its pain set in. We are not ready. The intense emotion is redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may even be directed at our deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control, for example “If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…” Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. The second type of depression is more subtle. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell.
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Professional SupportThere are a number of organisations that offer a range of support resources and programs for individuals, children and families who need help following the death of someone close to them. Below are some links to assist you.
- Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement Referral Service - 1300 664 786 - Practitioner Consultancy Service - 1300 858 113 - www.grief.org.au
- Lifeline - 13 11 14 - www.lifeline.org.au
- beyondblue - 1300 22 4636 - www.beyondblue.org.au
- National Association for Loss & Grief - www.nalag.org.au
- The Compassionate Friends - (03) 5243 6904 - www.compassionatefriendsvictoria.org.au
- GriefLine - 1300 845 745 - www.griefline.org.au
- Suicide Prevention Australia - http://suicidepreventionaust.org
- Sids and Kids - 24 hour Bereavement Support Line - 1300 308 307 - www.sidsandkids.org
- Sands - (03) 9899 9414 - www.sands.org.au
- Canteen - 1800 835 833 - www.canteen.org.au
- Redkite - 1800 733 548 - www.redkite.org.au
- Bears of Hope - www.bearsofhope.org.au
- Better Health Channel - www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
- Eastern Palliative Care - 1300 130 813 - www.eastpallcare.asn.au
- Melbourne Zen Hospice - (03) 9885 5725 - www.zenhospice.org.au