If you are familiar with grief at all, chances are that you have heard of the five stages of grief — shock or denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Unfortunately, these stages imply that the process of grief occurs in steps. A linear, progressive, series you can follow to “get through” your loss. However, these five stages, developed and explained by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, were originally written for people that were encountering their own death and dying, not for the bereaved. This disconnect explains why the stages may not naturally fit the emotions we experience following loss—and that’s okay. When it comes down to it, there is no formula, no linear process. These “stages” should be used as an outline or guideposts for our grief, not as a by-the-book instruction manual.
As grievers, it is very natural to want to push through our sadness, defeat it, or to escape the strong emotions that come with loss altogether. However, grief has its own timeline and its own plan for each of us. In all my years of doing grief therapy, I have yet to see one person who has lost a loved one and was able to skip over their grief process entirely—whether it occurs immediately following the loss or years down the line. Our emotions cannot be tied up in a pretty little package with a bow and put it away. But the reality is we don’t need to “get over” our grief. We need to find ways to cope with and integrate it into our lives. And most importantly, I believe, to share it with others.
As painful as this process can be we must find ways to nurture, honor, and relinquish control of our grief. One of the most important ways we can do this is to share our stories of loss—and not just once, not just a few times, but over and over again. As we tell our stories, we heal a little more each time, and more than likely we are also helping the hearts of others heal as well. Our grief, our babies, our stories of loss are a piece of our journey, and sharing that journey with others gives us the opportunity to make room in our lives for the reality of this missing piece.
I have heard from many people that in the beginning, friends and family listened to their stories and were receptive and helpful. But over time, grievers will say they just can’t keep telling the same story to people who don’t seem to understand or relate. This is where finding our “peers in grief” becomes vital, and is an immense blessing of No Foot Too Small (NFTS). NFTS provides us with a built-in community of those who have grief in common. People that will listen to our stories and share their own, while simultaneously showing us we are not alone and we are not “falling behind in the process.” Our loss happened. We lost our babies, and every day we are trying to make meaning of that loss. There are no easy formulas or linear steps toward healing completely, but together we can share in both the trials and the triumphs that comes with this very particular kind of growth. We don’t push each other through it and we don’t stop talking about it. We honor our babies and our grief by sharing.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to know what your path through grief has looked like. What “stages” do we not always talk about, but certainly experience?
Jade Spielman, LMFT, a Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in Ankeny, Iowa. She has been a therapist for about 13 years, with a focus on grief, loss, and bereavement. email@example.com