Stages of grief apply to symbolic loss and grief just the same as when we grieve for the loss of a loved one. An example of grief associated with symbolic loss is the multitude of feelings, thoughts and experiences, we have when something occurs in our life changing the way we hoped our life would be at a particular point in time.
Grief is sometimes described as a ‘cycle’ containing a number of stages through which people pass when grieving. This can be a useful way of understanding what we experience. Grief is normal. These feelings do not mean we are going mad. It is important to remember, there is NO ‘correct order’ to stages of grief. You may skip a stage or go through several stages at a time.
Stages of grief commonly overlap, developing in a jagged pattern. You may experience going one step forward then find you take one step back to an earlier ‘stage’ before going forward again. Over time, the intensity and strength of going through these steps diminishes as an overall forward progress develops.
Stages in the cycle of grief are:
Initial shock and numbness:
This may be very strong during early stages of realization that your life is not going to be the way you had planned. This ‘shock’ stage may last for some people a few minutes, hours, days or sometimes a considerable length of time. During this time we are actually experiencing feelings offering a temporary escape from reality. As long as it is temporary, we are protected from overwhelming emotional hurt at this vulnerable stage. This gives us time to discover our inner strengths and to get the assistance and information we need in order to better deal with our situation.
Thoughts and feelings at this time may include a sense of disbelief. “I don’t believe it!” “This can not be. There must be some kind of mistake!” Feelings of anger and or guilt may be strong.
Behaviour may include onset of sudden waves of crying and emotion as you progress through this stage of grief. You may find yourself searching for other people who have developed a similar medical condition to you, had a similar experience of diagnostic process or have temporarily lost sight of dreams and hopes for their future. You may find your self sighing or not wanting to eat. Having trouble sleeping from a combination of medical condition symptoms and realizing how this is changing your life. It may also be difficult to concentrate or make decisions.
Searching, yearning and emotional release:
Many people move into this second stage of grief for symbolic loss fairly quickly. This stage is the most obvious stage of grief. Time when emotion is expressed. When losing something of great value like an anticipated lifestyle, a normal reaction is to yearn for it. We have that sense of ‘has this really happened?’ We begin to realize just how dreadful our loss is.
Thoughts and feelings at this time may include despair, apathy, depression, anger, guilt, helplessness, self doubt, and being easily startled or annoyed by noise. Without warning you may be overwhelmed by a wave of confusion and grief. You may even feel additional tightness in your throat and a shortness of breath. To express these feelings associated with grief is natural.
Behaviour during this stage may include general restlessness or impatience with others and with daily events. You may notice you have poor memory and a lack of concentration. You may find you are socially isolating yourself. Lots of tears and sobs can be characteristic of this stage of grief for symbolic loss. Any of these reactions may be triggered by thinking about what your life had been intended to be like at this time but is now different.
Disorientation and depression:
As the reality of your symbolic loss of lifestyle and thoughts of how you had intended life to be at this point in time emerges, a common reaction being “I do not really know where I am at in all of this.” There can be a sense of not having any real purpose of life or in living.
Thoughts and feelings during this stage may include depression and or a sense of loneliness and frustration. You may find yourself wondering whether your grief is actually a disease in itself. Some people may at times even feel suicidal. As you work through this stage of grief about symbolic loss, you may also feel brief episodes of panic when it is very hard to think of anything other than your great loss of voice, physical ability, employment or any other kind of loss you are experiencing.
Behaviour may include annoyance and non-compliance with others who attempt to get you back into what they believe is a ‘normal’ routine of life. You may be reluctant to reach out or share with other people. May not want to answer or speak on the telephone. You may just want to live as if nothing has happened to change you but feel restless and irritable, sometimes wanting to just run away from everything.
Reorganization, acceptance and recovery:
A stage sometimes referred to as the final stage of grief. For some people, this may be a real turning point in time. Depression, panic and despair may have led us toward accepting that our changed lifestyle and needs are indeed permanent. For many people, this may be a very real and deeply positive experience. Sometimes people are aware that something previously unconnected with their life happens and so initiates a spark of new life and also new direction in life.
Thoughts and feelings may now include a great sense of release. This stage brings a real sense of new life, renewed hope and optimism.
Behaviour may include improved sleeping patterns and a relief from intensified feelings of the physical symptoms of your condition. You may find you have better judgment in your decision making and an increased interest in your future.
Living with realization of symbolic loss and change of lifestyle, brings about deep acceptance of our situation. Therefore, we are carried out of depression and into the reality of new life. Circumstances have changed and we change.
Whilst going through the ebb and flow movements of grief stages associated with our symbolic loss, we may get stuck somewhere or we may even temporarily by-pass some stages. With hope, we are able to face these stages, come to terms with them and express them again, over and over if we need to!
I hope this article has been helpful in assisting you to understand how we all go through stages before being able to come to terms with changes we experience in our lives.
I wish you all Good Grief whilst we travel together through our experiences of life.
Sue Bayliss, Australia. Please, do post a comment with this article or alternatively, if you would like to, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org