Counselor's Corner, December 2016
Cynthia Bryant, LCSW
Television and movies would have us believe that life changes in the blink of an eye. Screenwriters tell stories this way to make way for a tidy conclusion in the allotted time. While it’s true that fortune or tragedy can strike without warning, many of life’s changes occur across an expanse of time. And rarely, if ever, do life’s challenges have tidy conclusions.
Likewise, the grief associated with a painful change can also last for months or years. When a person is faced with an impending loss but an uncertain timeline, it may be referred to as a “Long Goodbye.” A Long Goodbye may relate to a terminal diagnosis for one’s self or a loved one, coming to terms with one’s own decline of mobility and independence, a breakup or divorce or loving someone with dementia. When we face such situations, we may spend months or years preparing for loss – something that’s often referred to as “Anticipatory Grief.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler have described “anticipatory grief" as the ‘beginning of the end’ in our minds… Most of the time in grief we are focused on the loss in the past, but in anticipatory grief we occupy ourselves with the loss ahead,” they write. We are unique individuals, and not everyone experiences anticipatory grief. Yet, it can be quite normal to experience some, if not all, of the five stages of grief before a loss. The stages of grief which were outlined by Kübler-Ross in her pivotal book On Death and Dying are:
Denial- a time of survival and shock when feelings have not surfaced.
Anger- a time when tangible feelings start to form opinions and allow for the expression of pain that is expressed as anger.
Bargaining- a time of questioning and wishing to negotiate away the hurt. Regret, guilt and “shoulds” dominate thinking.
Depression- a time to acknowledge the sorrow of the pain and hurt. This is a natural and necessary step to honor the loss or to honor the impact on self.
Acceptance- a time of being in the reality of “Now.” To accept does not mean to like the circumstances but to acknowledge that life will go forward. The goal is for future growth and happiness over time.
It is important to note that even if a person experiences the stages of grief in anticipation of a loss, one can re-experience the grief after the loss. Grief is not a journey that has a marked beginning and end. It is a process. If you or a loved one need help navigating life’s challenges, contact Robin McMilin at 205.879.3438 to schedule an appointment with one of CJFS’ experienced, licensed professionals.
Below are references and resources that may be helpful to individuals experiencing grief or anticipatory grief:
On the Web:
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler
You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Death by Louise L. Hay and David Kessler
On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner