I suspect that when most of us hear about grief and the stages of grief we assume that is normally for people who have lost a loved one. But I think it is important to understand that these stages of grief can be experienced with other events that happen. When you Google “grief” there is often mention of the loss of a loved one but there is also reference to other events in life that can cause grief. My favorite tool, the Encarta Dictionary, defines grief as “the cause of intense, deep, and profound sorrow, especially a specific event or situation”.
I chatted recently with a friend who I quickly came to understand was going through the stages of grief without realizing it. She was involved in a situation where her job provided her with some opportunities that excited her. She saw an opportunity for financial growth. She, being one that struggles with mental health issues and often feels low levels of self-esteem, saw an opportunity to be part of a team that gave her confidence and helped her overcome her feelings of unworthiness. In moments of clarity she also understood that she had something to offer and looked forward to bigger and better things.
But then her world crashed. What she had thought was going to be an opportunity for her turned into everything but. She was shocked. She felt that she had not been listened to. She felt betrayed. Her mental health took a significant body blow. She felt lost and unsure how to move forward.
As she talked about the situation and the emotions she was going through I quickly came to understand that she was experiencing the classic five stages of grief.
1. She was clearly going through a denial stage. She talked about feeling that this really wasn’t happening, that there had been a mistake made and that she would wake up the next day and it hadn’t happened. She was using denial as a defense mechanism and to numb the body and soul to the intense emotions that she was experiencing.
2. She related how in her darkest moments there was anger, anger that appeared to be rooted in her sense of betrayal and feeling humiliated. She had trusted, she had been open and honest, she had opened her soul and now felt that it had been ripped from her.
3. She related how she felt vulnerable and helpless, a clear indication of bargaining. She was looking for ways to regain control hoping to change the outcome. Thoughts of “what if” and “if only” flooded her mind.
4. She told me of how she isolated herself. She experienced subdued moments, times where depression took over, a common after effect of intense anger. The feelings were heavy and, in her words, she felt like she was in a fog. She felt confused.
5. But there were also times when she felt she could accept and move on. That this wasn’t the end of the world but rather a starting point or an opportunity to move on. Even thinking at times it was best that this had happened.
As I outlined what I felt was happening she asked an interesting question. She wondered why they were called “stages” as in her mind stages suggested that this would be a linear process and in her experience it was anything but linear. I compared it to a word I often use with my own journey. I call it a labyrinth, “a place with a lot of crisscrossing or complicated passages, tunnels, or paths in which it would be easy to become lost” (Encarta Dictionary).
I follow up with her every so often to help her in her journey. Not that I am an expert but rather felt I could be there for her, to listen and to normalize and validate her feelings. She expressed gratitude for the support and related how her family was an incredible support and was helping her understand that what had happened wasn’t personal and that there were other opportunities awaiting her.
Why, you may ask, am I telling this story? There are many different experiences we have and often these experiences have a significant impact on our lives. They maybe financial issues, family conflicts, and broken relationships. They fill us with unwanted feelings and emotions. They literally throw us for a loop. In times like this it is important to gain an understanding of what one is going through, to seek out a support system and to talk about it. And, most importantly, to know there is hope and there is relief. Make it a good one.
“At any given moment, you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.”
Christine Mason Miller