The most common question I’m asked in grief counseling is, “how long will this last?” It’s a relevant question, and unfortunately one for which there is no good answer. Grief is something that consumes us, envelopes our whole being. Then, with time and work – it dissipates. How much time depends on the individual – their experiences, the relationship with the person they lost, the circumstances of that relationship and the dying process; and even their relationship with death itself.
I do give an answer that the bereaved find helpful and that is explaining grief using a grief model by Dr. Roberta Temes. There are many models for grief, the most popular being Kubler-Ross’ 5-stage model. They five stages of grief are: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. These are definitely emotional states that the bereaved experience while grieving, but what we found was that there was no linear movement through them. In other words, they are more like phases one goes through while grieving. The model proposed by Dr. Temes is a simple and easy to understand model that gives a person a sense of where they are and where they are going. Understand that all the models are relevant, but are constructs developed to help us understand grief. Here is Dr. Temes 3-stage model, with Kubler-Ross’ “phases” interjected.
Stage 1: Acclimation & Adjustment
In this first stage, the tasks largely involve dealing with the initial emotional shock and disorientation often brought by death. It is common to feel disoriented and to lack focus. Often bereaved clients will comment that they feel as if they are going crazy. The tasks in this stage include:
In terms of the Kubler-Ross model, denial, bargaining, and anger are most prevalent.
Stage 2: Emotional Emersion & Deconstruction
Although the initial impact of the death has passed, emotions are often deeply felt during this stage. The bereaved are faced with the changes that the death has brought and often challenges their beliefs about the way things should be. This stage incorporates the most active aspects of grief work. It’s not that this stage is any more intense than the first stage — in fact, it’s difficult to imagine that anything could be more intense than the period immediately following a loss. But during this stage, people are likely to become deeply immersed in their feelings and very internally-focused. It’s also quite common for the bereaved to undergo a “deconstruction” of their values and beliefs as they question why their loved one was taken from them.
The primary tasks of this stage are:
It is common that the bereaved exhibit depression and anger as they challenge disturbing thoughts and beliefs about the death, their loved one, and themselves.
Stage 3: Reclamation & Reconciliation
In this final stage many issues about the death have been resolved, and the bereaved more fully begin to reclaim and move on with their lives. This stage is generally thought to be one marked by “recovery” from grief. But the loss of someone close leaves a permanent mark on people’s lives in the sense that things can’t be restored to the way they were before the death. However, people can begin to rebuild, creating a new life for themselves and re-engaging with the world around them. As this stage ends, the bereaved become reconciled to the death itself, and the changes it’s brought to their lives. Perhaps most important, they begin to live in the present, rather than the past, re-establish who they are in the world, and plan a future. We have now come to acceptance. It does not mean that one forgets, or that the bereaved are never sad. It means they have accepted their relationship has changed, and that their love is alive and always will be.
The primary tasks of this stage are:
One can see that this model is easy to follow, but the tasks are not easy. We are here to support you in navigating this difficult journey we call grief. Call us, we are here for you.
Jim Reiser MA, LMFT