Death is a difficult subject for many people to discuss. Death is a part of life and should not be ignored; avoiding the topic of grief and death only complicates our everyday lives. During our lives, we will experience it in various forms, whether it be the death of a friend, family member, or beloved pet.
The way we experience grief may differ from person to person, but we all go through stages. These stages are also known as the five phases of mourning. These five phases were originally proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. The five phases are:
1. Denial and Isolation
When people initially hear about death, or terminal illness of someone who they care about, they deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction that limits the initial shock of overwhelming emotions. This response is temporary, but helps carry us through the initial first wave of pain.
As the effects of denial and isolation slowly wear off and reality sets in, the pain returns, and we once again try to deflect these feelings. Instead of coping, we express them instead as anger. Anger that can be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. In some cases, we even feel angry at the person we have lost. This makes many people feel guilty for being angry, making them more angry. Especially when we feel that the person is to be blamed, even though we know the person is not to be emotionally blamed for causing us pain or for leaving us.
A much weaker line of defense is bargaining. A common reaction when we experience a sudden loss that we have no control over is to regain control by bargaining: secretly making a deal with a higher power or God in an attempt to postpone the inevitable.
When it comes to death, we associate it with two types of depression. The first one is a reaction to the more logistical aspects of death. Worries about the cost of burial; or worry about if, in our own grief, we have spent less time with those who depend on us.
The second type of depression associated with mourning is a much more private experience in which we quietly prepare to bid farewell and separate from our loved ones.
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift that not everyone receives. Death is often unexpected, or we may never see beyond our anger and denial. This stage is marked by withdrawal and calm, not necessarily a period of happiness, and it must be distinguished from the phase of depression.
A very important thing to remember is that many people do not experience the stages in the order listed above. The point of understanding the phases is not to think or feel like you have to go through all the stages, or in the precise order. The point of understanding is that it helps to understand and put into context where you are in the grieving process.
It is important to remember that everyone grieves differently. Some people are reserved and may not cry; others are outwardly emotional. You should not judge how someone experiences grief, as each and every person experiences it slightly differently.
This article was written in memory of Nick Spiva and Alex Brack, two Florida Tech panthers who passed away over the course of Fall 2014. They are greatly missed and have had a profound impact on many students on our campus, including myself. My condolences go out to all of their friends and family.
If you or a friend are having difficulties coping with loss, please contact:
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
Florida Institute of Technology
150 W. University Blvd, Bldg. 264
Melbourne, Florida 32901