Mourning someone’s death is a non-linear process—here are some emotions you might go through while grieving.
When you’ve lost someone you care about, be it a family member, a friend, a romantic partner, or a colleague, the grief can feel expansive. And, despite what you might have heard about the five stages of grief, there is no one correct way to move through mourning.
The concept of the often-referenced Kubler-Ross Model of the five stages of grief—which was based specifically on people who had received a terminal diagnosis—refers specifically to those who are coming to terms with their own impending death, not about those who are left behind. The popular piece of research implies a linear progression that can result in feeling like you’re not “grieving correctly.”
“To think it’s linear sets up expectations, and if we have those we’re set up for guilt or shame that we’re not doing it right,” says social worker and grief and trauma counsellor Camila Troughton. “There is no timeline on this. There is no right or wrong way.”
While the steps might not come one by one, there are some familiar emotions you might feel if you’ve lost someone you care about. Based on Ph.D and renowned educator on death and grieving Alan Wolfelt’s The Six Needs of Mourning, here are some ways you might cope with your grief.
Accepting the Reality of Death
The shock of a loss can last for months, making it hard to accept what has happened. “This is why rituals are very important,” says Troughton, about gatherings like funerals. “They help with having that message come home, accepting the reality of what’s happened.” With COVID-19 restrictions, a full traditional ritual may not be possible, so try to find other ways to discuss the loss with others, and celebrate your loved one in whatever way you can.
Letting Yourself Feel the Pain of the Loss
“We will do a lot not to feel pain,” says Troughton. From substance use, to throwing ourselves into work to avoid reflection, numbing out is a natural response. However: “Grief will wait,” she says. “It’s through those emotions, riding the wave of them, that we’re going to get to the other side.” Acknowledging your pain is a way to begin processing your loss.
Remembering the Person Who Died
Because mourning isn’t linear, it can be difficult to hold both the pain of your loss and positive memories of the person who died at the same time. Spending time to remember what you loved about this person is a healthy way to move through your grief, and it’s a practice you can return to again and again.
Developing a New Sense of Self
Grief is transformative, so don’t expect to come out the other side the same as you were before. For many, that means needing to readjust to the new version of yourself. “We may have lost our title,” says Troughton—for example, in losing a parent, you’re still a son or daughter, but the feeling might be different, and that’s something to get used to.
Search for Meaning
Although it’s one of the only certainties, death often feels senseless. That’s why part of coping with death might come in the form of a search for meaning. You might ask yourself “How are we going to tell this story? What will the legacy of what happened here be?” says Troughton. This is also where many charitable responses—like the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving—come from.
Letting Others Help You
Look at your ecosystem of support and know that each person will be able to be there for you in different ways—be it listening, helping you achieve tasks, or distracting you when you’re ready to have fun.
No matter where you are on your grieving journey, talking with others who have experienced something similar, in a setting like a grief support group, can also be helpful.
“Coming together meets one of our fundamental needs and not only are we receiving help and support, but we are experts,” says Troughton. “We know better than anyone what this feels like and what would help. We don’t need someone with credentials or expertise.”