Growing up in a Christian home, I often put emotions into one of two categories: good or bad.
Anger. That’s a bad emotion.
Joy. That’s a good emotion.
Sadness. Also a bad one.
Peace. Another good one.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned life isn’t quite so black and white. Emotions in and of themselves are not wrong; it’s what you do with the emotions that can be healthy or unhealthy. Why am I telling you this? Because today we’re talking about grief. Grief comes up any time there’s a loss in our life, whether it’s:
- a breakup
- a death
- a debilitating illness
- an unfulfilled dream
- or something else
Grieving that loss means you’ll feel all sorts of emotions. Some of them are what I used to think were the “good ones” and others the “bad ones.” But none of them are actually good or bad; they just are. They’re simply part of the process of healing from a loss.
Enter: The Five Stages of Grief Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was the psychologist who first came up with the term “the five stages of grief.” After observing lots of people, she recognized that there were five emotional stages that people typically faced when grieving a loss. Each person would go through these stages at their own pace; there was no amount of time each stage was “supposed to” last. It could be a few days, a few months or a few years. The stages could also come in different orders. It was a process unique to each person. Here are the stages she noticed:
#1: Denial. This is the stage where you almost go numb, where you have a hard time even recognizing the pain because you are still in shock.
#2: Anger. In this stage, you begin to feel angry over the loss. This is an important part of the grieving process because you’re coming to terms with what exactly you lost. If you never feel the anger, it’s hard (perhaps even impossible) to fully heal from the loss.
#3: Bargaining. This is where you are plagued with “What if?” questions. What if I’d done something differently? What if I’d been there? Would this have still happened?
#4: Depression. This is the part where all the sadness seeps in and feels overwhelming. This stage refers to the feeling of depression, rather than an actual clinical diagnosis of depression. This stage is very painful, but also very normal when grieving a loss.
#5: Acceptance. You’ve come to realize that life will not be the same as it was before the loss. You’ve been able to feel the emotions churning inside you. And you’re finally able to create a new normal for yourself. In my own life, I’ve found that this is when I discover that I have grown to new depths as a person. It’s almost like the pain and suffering have taught me, have made me more fully human and have given me a new kind of empathy for others.
Why Go Through This Grieving Process? It sounds so much easier to try to numb the pain, maybe through TV or busyness or food. It sounds so painful to face it! But if we don’t face it, the grief gets locked inside us and turns toxic. It turns into bitterness or an uneasy numbness that is always threatening to crack. It can result in health issues and unrest in our minds. And that’s why I believe the stages of grief are essential for our healing.
Three Important Things I’ve Learned About Grief As I have gone through seasons of grief in my own life, there are three important things I’ve learned:
1. Embrace the stage where you are on the journey, without guilt. For example, being in the angry phase doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong, and being in the depression phase doesn’t mean you don’t trust God. It’s simply part of the process, and if you experience each step with God, expressing it all to Him, it will bring you so much closer to Him.
2. Take the journey with people you trust. Don’t try to grieve alone; it’s too easy to drown in the grief then. Instead, surround yourself with trusted community members. For me, that includes my counselor, my husband, my parents, my mentors, a few close friends and, of course, God. Find the people you trust to take this journey with you.
3. Ask God what He wants to teach you along the way. This gives me a sense of purpose in the suffering. What beautiful gifts is God hiding for me in this dark season of grief? What beautiful things does He want me to learn? (To read more about this idea, click here.)
My Own Grief In closing, I’d like to share a snapshot with you of a recent grief my husband and I have been walking through: the miscarriage of our first child, Tiny. This is a video I made that shares both the pain and the beauty that have come hand in hand during this time of loss. Our grief will not look quite like your grief or anyone else’s; each person’s journey is unique. But hopefully this can encourage you that it’s okay to feel, it’s okay to grieve and that God will turn all our pain into something deeply beautiful in its own way.