Loss and grieving: five stages

In senior care, one must be able to handle loss on a regular basis.

In senior care, one must be able to handle loss on a regular basis. One unfortunate reality is that we get to meet and care for people when they are undergoing health challenges and they may die while under our care.

Because we genuinely care about our clients, we experience the grieving cycle after a cherished client passes. To manage the emotional loss and grieving cycle, especially for family members and friends, it can help to understand that cycle.

Grieving has five stages. Although almost everyone who goes through bereavement will experience all stages, the amount of time spent in each stage, as well as the order in which each stage is experienced, will differ by individual.

The five stages are:

1. Denial and Isolation

The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a loved one is to deny reality. This is normal. For our mind to deal with such overwhelming change, denial helps cushion the shock. This stage is temporary.

2. Anger

As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain start to sink in. To deal with the intense emotion, the emotional energy is expressed as anger. The anger may get directed in different places. Trying to understand where the anger is coming from is helpful.

3. Bargaining

Following feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, we feel a need to regain control. Therefore, some thoughts such as the following may surface:

• If only I had sought medical attention sooner…

• If only I got a second opinion from another doctor…

• If only I had tried to be a better person toward them…

Once you’ve looked at the fact that your difficult reality is not going to change, you can make a decision to stop trying to get it to change. Repetition is how we learn new patterns. So rather than repeat the negative thoughts that are emotionally draining, substitute healthier thoughts in place of the “if onlys”. Focus on things you are grateful for. As you do this, you may find that sorrow and anger arise again. But this will help you deal with the emotions and get you closer to acceptance.

4. Depression

Depression is associated with mourning. Perhaps we believe in this time that we have spent less time with others that depend on us. A second type of depression is more subtle. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to say a final farewell to a loved one.

5. Acceptance

Not everyone reaches acceptance. The passing of a loved one may be sudden and unexpected, and we may never see beyond our anger and denial.

Two thoughts to help assist you through the grieving process and reach the acceptance stage: first, open up to others you trust.

When we grieve, oftentimes we isolate ourselves from the rest of our friends and family. However it is really important to talk about our feelings. Be sure to find someone you trust to talk to during these difficult times. Second, get back to your activities. It is very easy to stay home, away from family, friends and fun after the loss of a loved one. However, it is important to go back to your regular activities that you enjoy — even if gradually at first.

Reaching acceptance comes with a deepening inner peace — and the realization that loss and grieving are part of the natural emotional experience.

Others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing. Hopefully we’ve all learned by now that sweeping it under the rug is not effective.

Remember, grieving is a personal process that has no time limit, nor a single perfect way to do it. It may take anywhere from two weeks to two years to effectively move through the stages.

Implementing the tips above can definitely help in the grieving process. If you really are struggling well after the death, it may be a good idea to seek professional help from a grief counsellor.

Chris Wilkinson is owner/GM of the Cowichan and Central VI Nurse Next Door Home Care Services franchise. Visit NurseNextDoor.com or email Chris at Cowichan@NurseNextDoor.com for more information.

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