By: Leah Hovey
Having a loved one die, at any point in your life, is one of the most challenging experiences one can go through. Death is finite and we are often not prepared for the reality of loss. When I was in high school, I lost a parent and it broke me completely. For years I carried this grief with me, refusing to seek help or confronting my emotions. I continuously thought to myself “it has been years… Why am I still just as affected as I was before? Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” I believed I should be and that there was something significantly wrong with me because I wasn’t okay.
We all have heard about the 5 stages of grief. First there is denial, then anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. This theory, while significant, paints the picture of a finality of the grieving process (Stroebe, Schut & Boerner, 2017), that there is a timeline and once you reach the end, it is over.
These stages, although important, made me feel as though there was something wrong with me. I had experienced anger, bargaining, denial and depression. I believed I had even accepted my parents’ death in many ways. So, if I had been through all of these stages why did I still feel so empty?
It wasn’t until I volunteered at a grief centre for children that I learned a new theory, and this idea changed my entire perspective on grief. The reality is, grief is not a simple line, or a stairway to an end goal. It involves various ups… downs… twists and turns.
Throughout your life you will experience various stages (and some emotions that may not have been mentioned). Everyone has a different journey, which is perfectly normal. Depending on ages, milestones, anniversaries or life experiences, the grief you feel can come back and be just as strong as before (Levy, 2000). An example could be losing your father as a teenager and experiencing depression during your wedding day because this is a moment he should have been there for. This is why it is NORMAL to grieve throughout your life.
Once I learned this, I no longer felt as though I was broken or that there was something wrong with me. I felt seen, accepted and shameless. Once I was able to accept this reality I was able to finally understand that grief is a lifelong process, and that realization brought me comfort because I no longer felt ashamed for having intense feelings of grief.
I hope this brings those out there some comfort, or a sense of calm knowing that you are not alone. There are individuals who are with you, and you never have to ‘get over it’. Talking about my parent now has brought me peace instead of shame, which is something I would have never imagined for my 17 year old self.
Levy, S. V. (2000). Tidal waves of grief: An experiential study of the grieving process. The Union Institute.
Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Boerner, K. (2017). Cautioning health-care professionals: Bereaved persons are misguided through the stages of grief. OMEGA-Journal of death and dying, 74(4), 455-473.