Processing GriefMay 7, 2010
Recently, I looked up some writing I’d done on Grief and discovered I’d never posted it. While I’ve touched on the subject itself on a number of occasions, I’d not posted about the process of grief.
If you’ve read about the subject before, you’ve probably seen the “5 stages of grief”. How, when faced with major loss, we naturally progress through the stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. However, these are NOT the stages of grief. These stages are what the terminally ill deal with in facing death. They were originally defined by Dr. Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying”. While death certainly can have a grief component, it is not the same process.
Grief has come to be understood as “the total response of the organism to the process of change“. But change is deeply associated with how we perceive it. Our perspective of the circumstances and how attached we are to maintaining what is being lost. If we are absorbed in the story, we don’t think “I feel upset”. We think “I am upset”. “I am loosing this”. It is personal, hence there is grief.
A better way to understand grief is the old adage that change is suffering. The basic concept is that change = loss = grief. Fundamentally, we experience grief as a response to the experience of loss. We perceive a loss and thus grieve the change.
Put another way, we go through some process of grief whenever change occurs that results in a perceived loss. This happens to us all the time so it’s very useful to understand the process so we can heal from the many turns on the road of life.
If we experience a loss of something we are not attached or identified with, it simply leaves our life. Like worn out underwear. There can still be a wave of grief if it’s something or someone we’ve enjoyed, like a causal friend moving away. But this is brief. We have not lost something of ourselves. We are not activating the pain body, as Tolle calls it.
Thus clearly it is the attachment that causes the pain, not the event itself. What we hold on to is something we have more control over.
Really, the process is about adaptation to change. It is typical of all adaptation, not just for grief.
1) Denial or resistance (optional)
2) Accept the reality of the loss
3) Allow and experience the pain of the loss
4) Adjust to being without the lost
5) Reinvest in the new reality/story (optional)
The last step is one that changes with awakening. As we step out of the need for a story, we stop writing new stories or adding to old ones in the face of change. We simply more deeply allow it to be as it is. While some story is needed to communicate, the noise greatly simplifies. Fewer and fewer things are said to bind us.
We can also observe that healing begins only AFTER Acceptance. Before that, we are in resistance and there is no adaptation. It is only when we are willing to see it is it is that we can let go. Thus, the key to all healing is awareness, for it is only with awareness that we can accept.