Grief is something almost everyone experiences at some point in their life. It may arise from the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the dissolution of a relationship, a trauma, an experience of illness, etc . It affects people of all ages, across all cultures, denominations, and geographic locations. Regardless of our differences, we all experience grief when we have lost something or someone. It is part of our human experience and underscores our vulnerability in lives marked by attachments to all things: people, animals, places, jobs, identities, emotional states, abilities, etc. Experience it as we all may, we don’t experience it the same. Still, there is a prevailing belief within many cultures and societies of what grief should look like.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss Psychiatrist who worked with terminally ill patients in the United States and studied the grief process. She developed the DABDA model, which outlined five stages individuals were likely to go through in the death and dying process: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. While the model was originally reflective of how people deal with death and dying in particular, it later expanded to include all forms of loss and grief. The stages are not meant to be linear; they can be experienced in any order. Some individuals may not even experience some stages depending on their unique situations. Everyone is different and so are our experiences of loss and grief.
That being said, people often find themselves in situations where they compare their grief journey to another’s. They feel guilt or shame for not experiencing one thing or for experiencing another. They feel guilt for experiencing something too much. They question how long is too long to grieve or how short is too short. I hear stories from people about grief that they don’t even recognize as being grief because they have become conditioned to believe ‘real grief’ only happens when one loses someone and that everything else is not ‘real grief’. This is incorrect. Grief is a natural process that occurs when we have experienced loss. Of any kind.
The grief journey of one person who lost a loved one might look nothing like someone else who lost a loved one in a similar experience. Two people who have experienced the same chronic illness with similar losses will also not have the same grief journeys. If you are grieving or know someone who is, please honor your or their experience by not comparing it to someone else’s. No one person is the same and neither are our experiences. We are molded by our cultures, by our beliefs (spiritual or other), by our families, by our friends, by our own life circumstances. We all have a history others know nothing about. Know that it is ok to feel the way you do (whatever way that is) and that your grief journey does not have to follow certain rules or stages or expectations. It is a very personal experience and only you will know what feels right for you. Listen and follow that feeling.