Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series.


Why is the book by Granger Westberg called “Good Grief?”

The first four stages — shock, emotional pain, depression and loneliness, and physical distress — certainly don’t seem “good” in any clear sense.

They are all a rough and tumble struggle to adjust ourselves to a major loss of some kind in our lives.

How the author explained the concept of “Good Grief,” to me, is as follows.

When we experience a grief-producing event, it is like sliding slowly down into a deep, unknown and often dark valley.

As we work through the later stages of grief, it is an uphill climb but, eventually, we come out of the valley.

Looking back, we discover we are at a higher vantage point than where we started.

We can view the sunshine and the world at large from a mountaintop we have climbed and generally with more vision, awareness, compassion, wisdom and maturity. So what are the other six stages of the grief process?

 

Stage 5: We might

become panicky

At the bottom of the valley, we might feel like a child lost in an unfamiliar wood.

We are uncertain of our bearings, of what to do next and not sure that help will ever come.

Our minds are overcome with the loss, and we can’t seem to shake the bad feelings.

We can’t work, sleep, concentrate, communicate and might even feel we are losing our minds.

This is not abnormal in the grief process. Quite the opposite, it is a natural part of the cycle and can be remedied by doing something different, forming new relationships and getting a new start on our lives.

 

Stage 6: We feel a sense

of guilt about the loss

Did we appreciate the person as much as we could have while they were alive and with us?

Did we do our best with them, with the job we lost, with our investments, our health and so forth?

Such questions bring us to experience guilt, which comes in two flavors — normal and neurotic.

Normal guilt comes from not living up to our own or society’s standards.

Neurotic guilt is blowing out of proportion our role in a matter that is unrealistic.

These feelings need to be talked through, confessed and forgiven and dealt with from a healthy spiritual and emotional context, lest they dog us the rest of our days.

 

Stage 7: We are filled with anger, resentment

We are now climbing uphill against a growing tide of negative emotion.

Depression is often repressed anger and once we come out of that, the underlying anger and resentment may well up.

These feelings also are a normal part of the grief cycle. If we know they are coming, we can be prepared to handle them and seek the strength to rise above them.

Avoiding spiritual cynicism and disillusion with God, as we perceive him, are essential here.

We simply must release these feelings associated with the loss of a person or situation lest the anger and resentment drag us back into depression and perpetual unhappiness.

 

Stage 8:

We resist returning

Part of us, no matter how far along in our grief work, might resist returning to life as usual.

We might be upset that others seem to have forgotten about our grief and no longer seem as sympathetic as they were.

We might be afraid to return to our usual social and work situations fearing we will be judged or that we acted poorly during this process.

We might wish to keep the grief alive out of respect for the loss a loved one.

Friends might even be in a conspiracy of silence, fearing to talk about a deceased person, which might open old wounds. This causes further isolation.

In my experience, people are generally understanding and supportive when a grieving person is trying to re-enter life.

They might feel a bit awkward at times, not knowing what to say, but it is a relief to just be supportive and go on with life together.

 

Stage 9: Gradually, hope comes through

This is where we start seeing the sunshine through the clouds of emotion as we leave the valley of grief and get closer to the top.

Everyone grieves at their own pace, so this stage might arrive unpredictably.

We need to breathe in the fresh air and affection of those around us, look to a new life and open ourselves to new opportunities and experiences.

This is the good part of good grief, the transcendence from the pits to the summit and beyond.

 

Stage 10: We struggle

to affirm reality

We don’t become our old selves again. Our spiritual faith might have been shaken, and our belief in ourselves and in others might have shifted.

Here is when we can grow into a deeper faith, stronger relationships, better and more inspiring work and activities.

Our inner strength and newfound poise help us adjust to and affirm our new life, new reality and a brighter future.

All of us as human beings will, at some point, suffer loss and the accompanying grief.

Knowing the stages of grief, knowing where you are while experiencing them and knowing you have to work through each stage but aren’t stuck there unless you choose to be, can allow healing for mind, body and spirit.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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