I have a particular fondness for the work of Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross because of her model of grief, and find that regardless of how great or small the loss I’m experiencing, her model serves me well by reminding me that my reactions are normal and to be expected.
By now, most of us know the stages of grief she observed among her dying patients: shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Of course, one doesn’t have to be dying to experience these emotional and intellectual reactions to the death of something in our lives. Whether you’re in the ticket line and have someone cut in front of you or whether you’ve been diagnosed with metastatic cancer, you will most likely go through many of these reactions to a loss. The size of the loss isn’t as relevant as the fact that we can be so predictable in our responses along the path to acceptance.
Take, for example, an event to which my husband and I found ourselves uninvited. I discovered that several people in our family had been invited to a function from which we’d been excluded, and my first reactions were a sinking heart (“Oh, no!”) and “realizing with a start” the facts of the situation—the reactions of shock and denial. This was followed by anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. From this example, you can see how the grief we experience over our losses, whether small or great, takes a worn path.
If you’ll think about the last reaction of shock or “Oh, no!” you had, you will probably be able to play your initial “Oh, no!” reaction forward and see how it ended in some sort of acceptance, even if only a grudging one. You may also be able to accept that nearly every “oh, no!” reaction is part of a response to loss.
Many times we don’t acknowledge our losses as we go through the day, and finally erupt by day’s end in some surprising way because we’ve been unconscious to our own suffering. I’ve found that the more aware I am of the losses I experience throughout the day and the claims I have that back up my sense of loss, the more I am able to contain myself rather than projecting my unsolved mysteries outward.