Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief: denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Others have built on these five stages, including Dr. Bill Flatt of Harding School of Theology. In a book entitled Growing Through Grief (1987) Dr. Flatt identified ten stages in grief recovery. I discussed the first five of these in part one: shock and denial, lamentation, withdrawal, frustration and panic. The other five to be discussed in part two are depression, detachment, adaptation, reinvestment, and growth.
The sixth stage Dr. Flatt identifies in grief recovery is depression. The loved one is still remembered and mourned deeply. The memory is often distorted, and the one grieving accentuates the good aspects of the deceased, forgetting anything bad. The mind of the griever actually imagines different and more positive outcomes. A depressed person often gives up on normal chores and activities, such as housecleaning and going to church, choosing to stay in bed. When the one grieving finally accepts that the loved one will not return, he may experience sadness, dejection and hopelessness. Attempts to comfort and cheer the depressed person is generally not effective. The best we can do for someone who is grieving is to listen. Because their spirit is depressed, their talk is usually negative ("I’m no good;" "I’ve got not reason to live," etc.). You won’t likely counter their self-assessment, but you can listen.
One positive thing about depression due to grief is that this is the lowest of the stages. A person at this point has hit bottom and is now poised to begin moving upward. As painful as depression is, it is an important part of the grieving process. Hang on!
In the seventh stage, detachment, a survivor begins detaching from the emotional bond with the deceased (this is different from the withdrawal stage, where a person withdraws from other people). This does not mean the griever loves the deceased less any less, but that he/she is not constantly tied in thought and action to their loved one. They begin thinking of other things and going about life, even working through their feelings of guilt, anger and pain.
Adaptation is the eight stage, also called acceptance or adjusting by some counselors. Adaptation means one is moving beyond detachment and learning to live with the changed circumstances. At this stage a person is still not happy, but the anger and depression is abating, and there is some sense of peace and hope now. Acceptance is passive, but adaptation is more active, meaning one resumes the regular chores and activities in life.
Stage nine is reinvestment. At this stage, the survivor has accepted the loss of his loved one and begins rebuilding life. He initiates positive moves, putting energy into his relationships with others, and even pursuing new ones. A person in this stage may think critically about his faith, either questioning it, rejecting it, or allowing it to provide comfort and security.
The tenth and final stage is growth. A person can come through the grieving process and emerge more mature, stronger and well-rounded than when he/she entered. A person can be torn down through pain and loss, but in the process of grieving and recovering can become stronger and more mature. Just as the mended spot on a broken bone can be stronger than other spots on the bone, so a person who has suffered can be stronger after the experience.
Think of these stages as road marks on the road to recovery. We experience the stages and time of recovery differently. The good news is, "The vast majority of us eventually get through the process successfully, and many of us come out of it as better people than we were before." (From Bill Flatt, Growing Through Grief, Christian Communications,1987).
How do you handle grief?
Note: These two articles are a summary of Dr. Flatt’s book. If anyone would like the longer version of notes, please let me know. Also, I recorded these two articles on grief for a radio spot, and I have them saved as MP3s. If you would like the recordings let me know as well.