To date, the search words that bring the most visitors to our blog are centered around the Stages of Grief specifically those following a suicide. Every time I see those search terms, I cringe a little. For a couple reasons. One, it saddens me that there are so many people searching for the answer to when their pain will end. Two, because as a society we have given people this notion that grief not only HAS stages, but it has a specified end. As a counselor myself, one would think that these stages would be somewhat of a “Grief Bible” to me. At one point I guess I thought that we all grieve in a similar manner, reaching various “stages” when we are ready. Then my Dad died by suicide, and that belief quickly diminished.
Here are some of my problems with the Stages of Grief, and why honestly, I think they are outdated and overrated.
1.) They imply that the grief process is brief and predictable. If there is one thing I have learned from the loss of my father is that there is NO predicting what will come next. You can’t control what others say to you, and you certainly can’t control the way society responds following a suicide. Additionally, there is no such things as brief when it comes to grief. In fact, I don’t think my grief journey will ever truly end. There will always be something that triggers me, and always be a memory that reminds me that my dad is no longer here. It is not necessarily that I have “accepted” his death; I have just learned to live with it.
2.) They suggest that all grief is the same and all journeys are the same. I have not met another survivor who has the same story as mine. Sure we all share feelings and thoughts but my grief is just that; its MINE. For anyone to believe that their grief will follow the same path as another, sets us up for heartache and can give us hope that it will be easier than it actually will. Hope is a beautiful thing, but managing our own expectations is equally important. We can’t expect to know what tomorrow will bring. The Stages to me, elicit a belief that we can determine what comes next, and when that doesn’t happen we are left feeling alone and hopeless.
3.) They make you feel as if something is wrong with you if you haven’t reached the final stage, Acceptance. So what exactly does acceptance look like? I feel that we can all answer this differently. Acceptance to me may mean one thing, while its meaning completely different to another. There is also no time limit on when we reach acceptance, and I do not believe it comes after a specific stage. It comes when we are ready to not accept, but forgive ourselves and the person we lost to suicide.
4.) They lead you to believe that all pain, hurt, and sorrow will disappear when you “accept” what has happened. One of my biggest problems with the stages is they do not acknowledge that you will continue to feel pain, hurt and sorrow. These feelings are all a part of life. I feel extreme pain in my heart when I look at my beautiful daughter and remember that she will never meet her grandfather. It often brings tears to my eyes, or leads to a short session of overwhelming tears that seem to never stop coming. Does this mean I haven’t reached acceptance? No, it means I am a human who has experienced great loss.
I will say that the Stages of Grief can be helpful as long as we see them for what they are. A means to describe some of the chaos we are experiencing. But to assume that you will move through one stage to another, without bumps or detours, in any set amount of time is simply unrealistic. Do not let others define how you feel, what you should feel and when you should feel it. Life just doesn’t work like that. At the end of the day, this is YOUR story and YOUR experience. Honor yourself by doing what you need to do to heal and find your own form of acceptance.