9 Ways to Deal With Loss
Navigating A Whirlpool of Emotions
After the death of a loved one, every funeral home in America will give you a psychological tip-sheet that cites the five stages of grief. It’s cribbed from the 1969 book, On Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-born psychiatrist who almost died as an infant (she was a two-pound, triplet). Kubler-Ross’ five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
That paradigm can also apply to losses like break-ups and lay-offs. Or, say, loss of freedom faced by white-collar criminals like media baron Conrad Black (left) who went into a federal penitentiary in March, 2008 (Black is still stuck in the denial and bargaining stages). Forty years after her moment in the sun, Kubler-Ross is a little too linear for these post-modern times. Here is our take on the stages of grief, based on collective first-hand experience.
After the numbness and shock wear off in the wake of a death, divorce — or conviction — you’re pulled into a vortex of emotions. A whirlpool of emotions. Pangs of anger, guilt, sadness and fear may suddenly overwhelm you — seemingly out of the blue as if a rogue wave had washed over the deck of a boat you’re on. There’s a natural impulse to feel guilty for simply having these feelings — and not weathering the storm like a man, or an adult, or whatever. Fuhgeddaboudit. You’re already feeling guilty enough for apparently not doing enough to prevent the loss of your loved one – or doing enough for them while he or she was still around. No need to reinforce it with an added layer of self-abnegation.
A couple of ways to de-loop that pattern:
First, let everyone around you know that the official literature says you’re going to be caught up in a whirlpool of emotions – and that if you act out, it’s not personal. Ask for their patience and forgiveness. If it’s not offered, you’ll quickly discover who your real friends are.
Second, allow yourself to deeply process three emotions in particular: sadness, fear and anger. Express those feelings by talking about them -- no matter how embarrassed you are by them, or how bad you think they make you appear. Ruminating about them in private will keep you stuck in your story.
The only way to clear your story is by repeating it to whoever will listen until it’s out of your system. Feel your fear, anger and sadness in your tissue – their locations, their sensations, their heat, their color. And feel all three emotions equally. Don’t deny, or underweight, any one of them. You can’t metabolize the phantom mass of your loss until you let all three of those feelings work through you.
STEP 4: What to Say to Someone Who has Lost a Loved One