LIVING life can be a roller-coaster ride. At times you are on top of the world. Your hands are up in the air, the wind is blowing through your hair and you are screaming at the top of your lungs. Then, in an instant, you find yourself deep in the valley with your head down, just holding onto the bar in front of you for dear life.
As an attorney, I work with people walking in the valleys of their lives. People don’t come to see me because they won the lottery. People who walk through my door are facing difficult circumstances and need help getting through them.
When I meet with clients, I often think about the five stages of grief that result from a trauma. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is credited with originally coming up with the stages. In her book “On Death and Dying” in 1969, she shared five stages people pass through in handling major traumas in their lives.
The first stage is denial. We don’t believe the loss is real. Our first response is “this can’t be true.” We think “this can’t be happening to me.” Refusing to accept the trauma gives our minds a little more time to try to digest what occurred. This stage can be short-lived, but it is the entry stage when we learn of a grieving event.
The second stage is anger, a very powerful emotion. It drives our world for a period of time. Who it is directed at can be different. The anger may be toward the person who caused the death, the victim who put himself into the position for the harm to occur, God, or even the person who is experiencing the anger himself.
Some people don’t get out of this stage and live the rest of their life angry.
The third stage is bargaining. This is often directed at God or a higher power. In this stage, promises are offered if a good outcome is still possible. This is common terminal-illness situations.
We might also bargain “with the past” involving “if only” thoughts such as, “If only I had left earlier,” “if only I had stopped smoking,” or “if only we had gotten a second opinion.”
This stage projects a different outcome based upon past events or promises to a higher authority.
The fourth stage is depression. After denial, anger and bargaining, we move into a world of depression. We recognize that our life is forever changed. A hole exists that we can’t fill and we feel powerless.
We may feel there is no reason to get out of bed in the morning or that life has no purpose. We can be captured in this stage. We’re deep in the valley and we stop and just look down at the ground. We are a victim and deserve a “pity party.” Our world can be all about ourselves.
This stage can also last the rest of a person’s life.
The final stage, the one we need to get to, is acceptance. In this stage, we can get back on track and into the flow. It doesn’t mean the grief is over, but it becomes manageable. We stop our fight with the action that has thrown us into the cycle.
We recognize we can’t change the historical happening. We recognize life continues on and the sun will come up tomorrow. This doesn’t bring joy back into our world, but acceptance allows us to minimize the anger and depression so we can move forward again.
We will never move entirely past the grief, but mood swings and repeated crying occurs less often.
Moving through these five stages is a personal thing. Grieving is a process. It takes different periods of time for different people. Some move quickly and some move slowly. It is important to move through each stage and to experience what each stage has to offer. The goal is not to get to acceptance in rocket speed, but merely to get there.
None of us can escape experiencing grief in our lives. None of us is bulletproof. Life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how we respond. There are many 10-percent events that will rock our world just in living life. We can’t control that 10 percent.
What we can control is the 90 percent response we choose. That 90 percent determines our life experiences and what quality of life we experience.
My challenge to you today is to recognize how we deal with grief. It doesn’t make it any easier, but understanding how we respond helps us on our journey.
If you or someone you love gets stuck for a substantial period of time in the anger or depression stage, it is time to get to the final stage of the cycle. That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, only it is time to drive a stake in the ground and move on. You will never forget the loss, but today is a precious gift that only arrives once and you will determine how you spend it.
We can’t change the past, but we can live today and prepare for tomorrow. If you are still here, you have a purpose in being alive today. Find that purpose and pursue it, letting go of any past experiences that can hold you back!
Just a thought …
Rick Kraft, a South Pasadena High School graduate, is a syndicated columnist, motivational speaker, published author and attorney. To submit comments, contributions or ideas, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.