Advertising
Advertising

Why It Is So Hard For Us to Accept the Loss of a Loved One

Why It Is So Hard For Us to Accept the Loss of a Loved One

Having a loved one die is like becoming a part of a club you never wanted to join. This is especially the case if the death is untimely, such as a young child passing, or the accidental death of a spouse. You may feel labeled by your loss and that the burden of this loss on your life is one that you will never overcome. Acceptance of a loved one’s death is possible, however it will also forever change you as a person. Your ability to process the death and the subsequent stages of grief will get you to acceptance. Acceptance of death does not mean you are left unscathed. Death of a loved one will change you forever, but how you deal with the grieving process will determine your acceptance and ability to move forward in life.

The real problem is that most people in the midst of their sorrow can’t imagine accepting the loss of their loved one. To do so would inadvertently mean that the person wasn’t that meaningful or that they aren’t worth the pain and sorrow. A good article on grief by Marty Tousley [1]. These steps are denial/ isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. People do not always go through these steps in the exact order. In some cases people may actually skip some of the steps.

However, these five steps are generally what most people immersed in grief experience. These stages have been studied by researchers and have been shown to be a commonly experienced across all the population, regardless of culture, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, etc. Understanding these stages can help an individual who is grieving, as they can recognize that their emotions are legitimate and commonly experienced by others who experience grief.

Professor Allan Kellehear wrote the the forward in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s well known book “On Death and Dying”.[2] This is the book in which she lays out the stages of the grieving process. The Professor noted the following in his forward regarding the flexibility allowed within these stages of grief:

“These stages are merely a set of categories artificially isolated and separately described so that the author can discuss each of these experiences more clearly and simply. The careful reader will note Kübler-Ross’s own repeated warnings that many of these “stages” overlap, occur together, or even that some reactions are missed altogether.”

The useful visual (below) of the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief was found at www.slideshare.net.[3] This is a general guideline and description of the stages, but once again, they can be experienced in a different order and/or stages in the process skipped altogether. These are a generalization of the grieving process, so you can recognize these emotions in yourself when you are grieving.

    Acceptance is the last, but not least stage.

    The crux of acceptance is the assumption that this means the person experiencing the grief is now healed, they are once again whole, and that the feelings of loss will be gone forever. That simply is not how grief and acceptance work.

    Acceptance involves the recognition that your life and your soul are somehow in some way changed forever because of the loss of your loved one. You will never return to that person you were before the loss. You are changed. For most people, the change is not good and it is not bad. The change just means you are different now that your loved one is no longer with you. They are with you in spirit and in your thoughts and mind, but physically they can’t be with you any longer.

    Advertising

    The Funeral Resources Website speaks to the topic of acceptance and how it is a time when the individual realizes they are not the same person they were before.[4] Acceptance is to be oneself in your new life, a changed you, because your loved one is no longer present physically in your life.

    Acceptance should not be confused with healing or recovering from the loss, since that would put an enormous amount of pressure on people experiencing grief. Acceptance is really the beginning of the real healing process. It is the point where recovery becomes about the person left behind, and not about the person being mourned.

    Embrace the process.

    The grieving process is not easy. It’s not a smooth path either. More often than not, it is bumpy, uncomfortable, and a miserable blip in your time on this planet. But that is exactly what it is, a blip. It is not a permanent phase, even though it may feel permanent at that moment. You may be in the depression stage where you feel extreme sadness and loss. This feeling can be so overwhelming you wonder if you will ever experience happiness or joy again. You can, and you will, if you allow yourself to move one step in front of the other. To continue to live and allow yourself to process your emotions and feelings. If you don’t, you can get stuck in a phase of grief or it can come back to deliver its wrath and compounded emotions at a later time. It is always better to deal with the emotions and feelings as they naturally come through the processing of grief. Embrace your blip in time and acknowledge these emotions and steps of grief as you go through them. Author Luminita Saviuc in her article “7 Ways to Deal with the Death of a Loved One” discussed the grieving process and eloquently stated:[5]

    “Feel the pain, embrace it, live it and when you’re ready, know that it’s okay to let go of it for the healing process can’t be complete until you learn to let go. Let go in order to be happy once again.”

    Information is power.

    To embrace the process it is helpful to understand the process. The stages of grief are not a one size fits all. Everyone experiences grief in a unique fashion, as each human being is unique. However, the stages or steps in the grieving process provide some generalization about how most of the population on the planet experiences grief. There can be ups and downs in these steps, there can be repeating of steps, and in some cases steps are skipped altogether. Understanding all of these things and allowing yourself to process each stage as your emotional makeup allows is important.

    Other factors such as emotional support and professional help are also important, especially when a person is stuck within a stage of grieving or is otherwise repressing emotions to try to suppress the process of grief.

    Get emotional support.

    You are not an island in this world. Everyone is connected to other people and everyone needs those connections, especially when you are grieving. There are times in the grieving process that you will want to be left alone. Jinna Yang in her article “10 Things I Learned While Dealing With the Death of a Loved One”, eloquently described her process of grieving the loss of her Father, which literally took her years.[6] There were times she wanted to be left alone, yet other times that a friend was exactly what she needed for emotional support to get her through that time of grief. Everyone needs emotional support. However, levels of emotional support required for one person are not the same for another, even if the situation or circumstances are similar. We all grieve and process our emotions differently. However, emotional support is proven beneficial to an individual during times of grief. If you are experiencing grief, be open to the support and comfort provided by others. Allow yourself an openness so that others can be of emotional support to you.

    Seek counseling and guidance.

    Grief counseling, also know as bereavement counseling is immensely helpful to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one. The sooner the therapy is sought after the loss, the more beneficial that therapy can be in assisting with the immediate grieving process.

    Advertising

    The Psychology Today Website has a search tool for you to locate a grief therapist in your area.[7] Their search tool includes counselors, therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrists. Use your zip code to search and you can also narrow your search by insurance carriers that the providers accept. Support groups are also available through this search tool on the Psychology Today Website. Try one method of therapy and if it isn’t a good fit then try another, as therapy is not a one size fits all remediation.

    Reference

    [1] Open to Hope: Can We Ever ‘Accept’ Death of a Loved One” discussed acceptance and so wisely states the following to mourners:

    “You are not alone in feeling “a huge aversion to any thought of moving on, healing, closure, acceptance, acknowledgement, etc.” Most of us mourners have trouble with words like “acceptance,” because in truth the death of our loved ones will never, ever be “acceptable” to us”.

    To be in the midst of mourning the loss of a loved one, it is most unfathomable to imagine “accepting” the death. Acceptance isn’t in the realm of a current mourner’s feelings or even desired emotions. They need to process their pain and grief and then the subsequent acceptance will come in due time, as they process through the stages of grief.

    Advertising

    The Stages of Grief

    There are five primary stages of grief. Psych Central describes the widely accepted theory of grief processing, which includes five steps or stages ((Psych Central: The 5 Stages of Grief & Loss

    [2] Elizabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation: On Death and Dying
    [3] SlideShare: Kubler Ross Grief Cycle
    [4] Funeral Resources Website: The Five Stages of Grief
    [5] Purpose Fairy: 7 Ways to Deal With the Death of a Loved One
    [6] Huffington Post: 10 Things I Learned While Dealing With the Death of a Loved One
    [7] Psychology Today: Find a Grief Therapist

    More by this author

    Dr. Magdalena Battles

    A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

    Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting a Marriage Counselor How To Stop Insecure Attachment from Wreaking Havoc on Your Love Life 7 Reasons Why You Should Find a Life Coach to Reach Your Full Potential 15 Ways to Practice Positive Self-Talk for Success How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome and Stop Feeling Lonely

    Trending in Psychology

    1 Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering 2 How to Increase Your Self Awareness to Be Much More Successful 3 How to Do Meditation at Home to Calm Your Anxious Mind 4 How to Handle Rejection and Overcome the Fear of Being Rejected 5 8 Powerful Reasons to Love Your Enemies

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on February 19, 2019

    Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

    Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

    No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

    People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

    But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

    If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

    Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

    Advertising

    Pain Is Our Guardian

    Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

    In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

    Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

    While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

    Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

    Advertising

    No Pain, No Happiness

    You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

    In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

    In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

    This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

    Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

    Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

    Advertising

    This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

    Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

    Allow Room for the Inevitable

    Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

    Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

    “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

    Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

    The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

    While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

    Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

    Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

    To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

    Advertising

    You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

    Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

    Reference

    [1] University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
    [2] Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

    Read Next