I’ve already shared my view on the necessity to give ourselves some time to grief but today I’d like to talk about how to actually deal with grief.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the popular 5 stages of grief developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that offers a very interesting approach – a stage approach, on how to deal with grief. In a nutshell, Kubler-Ross describes five stages that we go through when we grieve:
The first one is Denial. The pain is too strong to be faced, so we blank it, we avoid it, each of us in different way. That’s what help us to keep going at first.
The second one is Anger. Anger at life, God, the deceased or lost one. Anger is a necessary emotion that allows us to start moving forward in that process. A lot of the time anger covers up deeper emotions, such as fear and pain. But it is necessary and often easier to feel anger first, before exploring what’s underneath.
The third stage is Bargain. That’s when we try to get our loved one back in a break up for example or we try to find a way to lessen the pain. We live in the past and in an alternative reality when we are in that phase, thinking “I could have done this, that or the other” Or “What if I had said or done that instead?”. Bargain is often accompanied by guilt, and in that phase we are still avoiding to face the harsh reality.
After bargain comes Depression. That’s when we begin to be ready to face the situation, to accept what happened and to allow the deep feelings of grief to come up. This phase can be quite daunting and seem endless – but it is a necessary stage and most of the time it doesn’t last.
Finally comes Acceptance. We are ready to accept that we can’t change what happened, and that we need to move on. It doesn’t mean we’re not in pain anymore, but it means we are ready to start rebuilding ourselves.
Those stages don’t happen in that necessary order. I’ve noticed in myself and my clients that we tend to navigate between them, until we reach a peaceful place of acceptance.
I feel however a bit dissatisfied with the whole thing though. As if there was some unfinished business there. And I’d like to offer as a result a sixth stage. Through my own experience of grief and my client’s ones, I’ve realised that once you reach the stage of acceptance, sometimes after many years, you can still occasionally feel sadness and pain. But I’ve also realised that the sadness and pain itself can prevent you to move forward in life and keep you stuck where you don’t want to be.
Sometimes we hold on to that pain, perhaps as a way to remember the lost one, perhaps sometimes even out of loyalty – Maybe we feel that we are not allowed to let go of the pain and be happy as that person has gone or passed away. Sometimes the connection and the love with that person is so intrinsically entrenched with pain, that we subconsciously believe that feeling the pain is the only way to stay connected to them. That is often the case when the separation has been traumatic, whether in case of death or other very painful situation.
There’s also sometimes the fear in letting go of the pain, especially if it’s linked to connection. If we’ve been living with that pain for a long time, we can feel unsure of what would happen if we let go. Like it’s become part of who we are, what we know, and even if it’s painful, it’s weirdly comfortable, because that’s what we know best.
The pain is also in some situations a form of protection: if I feel pain and hold on to it, then I won’t engage in another situation where I can be hurt that bad again. All those reactions are mainly subconscious of course, but I find those beliefs and coping mechanisms popping up over and over again when I work with grief in my therapeutic practice.
I recently had an amazing experience though. I’ve been carrying myself the pain of grief for a long time, and never even questioned if I could let it go. It was such a big part of me, such a life-long companion, that I forgot somewhere along the line that it wasn’t part of my identity. And somehow, I didn’t realise I could live without it anymore. It had become part of my daily life, running subtly in the background, like the gentle humming of the fridge that doesn’t bother you and that you don’t even notice anymore.
When my holistic practitioner started working on it, I felt a strong resistance at first. It felt scary to think that I could let go of the pain, as I didn’t know how else to be, how else to live. And I felt the loyalty aspect of it very strongly. I realised that somewhere deeply buried in my subconscious, I believed the only way to stay connected to my loved ones was to hold on to the pain.
My practitioner then suggested learning to disconnect pain and love. It was such a new concept for me that I couldn’t even apprehend it at first. As I said, I went through a rainbow of emotions, from fear, to disbelief, to helplessness. But then I dived into it, and the most wonderful thing happened.
I reconnected with the love that sits underneath the pain. I had so much focused on the grief when working on it, that I had forgotten that behind pain, there’s always love. It’s like a chain of emotions. Anger is at the top, underneath it you find fear or pain – or both. And if you dig even deeper, you find love.
The only reason we suffer when we lose someone or something, is because we love them. And often, we are so consumed by the pain or the grief that we don’t honour and celebrate this love anymore. We stay stuck in anger or depression, or even denial and we forget what was in the first place. So when I started to separate those emotions, I suddenly felt a surge of that forgotten love, and it filled me in a way that I had never felt before. That big void I had been feeling for years has finally been filled in, and I feel whole again.
And that made me realise that perhaps we can add a sixth stage in the grieving process. Celebrating, reconnecting and honouring the love we’ve felt. Remembering and connecting with how it was, with the best times and simply stepping back in those moments and let ourselves feel the love.
You may feel that when you do this, the grief and the pain comes back. But that’s because your brain at that moment is focusing on the loss – not on the love. Through mental discipline, perhaps using tools like NLP, CBT or meditation, you can learn to control your thoughts and choose to only focus on the love.
I’m not saying it’s easy peasy, of course. I believe that the sixth stage does come after the other ones, once the pain has already begun to be processed. But when we’re ready – and it can take years sometimes – I think it brings closure to connect with that love. Because then you don’t need to focus on the loss or the pain anymore, you can let that go, and be ready to move on whilst cultivating and honouring that deep connection forever.
I’d be curious to hear your experience on that, so feel free to drop me a comment below! Thanks for listening in the meantime! 🙂
4 thoughts on “The sixth stage of grief”
Hi Peggy, i was just reading your article on the sixth stage of grief. It struck a chord for me as I have recently gone through the break down of a long term relationship and have struggled the past few months with the grieving process and the loss that person in my life. All the steps 1-5 i have absolutely experienced and still continue to each day, however reading about your thoughts on the 6th stage – celebrating the love that we did have, that thought has been a light bulb moment for me in that let me focus my thoughts of her /us on celebrating all the good stuff we had together and the better person I am for knowing her. Its so hard to do – but I feel this will be a far better use of my energy rather than dwelling on the pain and sorrow which I am finding so hard to break free from.
Thanks Peggy – great article!
Best regards, Laura Ferguson
Hey Laura, thanks for the feedback! I’m sorry to hear that but glad those thoughts help 🙂 I agree it’s not easy to do, but definitively helps us feel better than focusing on the pain or negative emotions…thank God time heals too! sending you lots of love xxx
This article really resonated with me. I believe this to be true after losing somebody close to me very suddenly some years back and then more recently coming through the other side of the break up. It’s a wonderful, almost peaceful feeling when you reach a level of acceptance that restores love in the heart Thank you!
Thanks for sharing Emma! <3 xx