The Millions of Stages of GriefApr 12, 2022
By Ilana Shapiro Yahdav and Kim Hanlon
Note: We have had the pleasure of partnering with BraveMaker as Grief Consultants in the release of their feature film, Last Chance Charlene. This film is streaming through Cinequest until April 17th, 2022. If you have not had a chance to watch it, you can view it here. We definitely recommend watching it. Film trigger warning: Discussion of suicide. You can also download the free companion Grief & Discussion Guide that we created with BraveMaker to help process the film.
Film Synopsis: Last Chance Charlene follows actress and screenwriter Charlene Tucci as she struggles through her grief following the suicide death of her brother, Dominick. She cries while opening up to her sister-in-law, Ayla, that she doesn’t know how to grieve and doesn’t know if she is grieving at all. The film beautifully illustrates how grief can affect all aspects of life from marriage to parenting to career. It illustrates many grief myths and highlights many ways people act and things people say that are simply not helpful or comforting. It’s a powerful film that raises many poignant topics and is a great way to start a dialogue about these important conversations. As Charlene says (paraphrased), “I want to make a film about suicide to get people talking about it because people really suck at it.’
We don’t believe this blog post contains any movie spoilers or triggers.
The below post reflects on that notion of if there is a particular way we are to grieve, and specifically looks at the 5 stages of grief that are commonly referred to in films, including Last Chance Charlene.
Right off the bat, we will say that there is NO ONE WAY to grieve.
- There is no real ‘correct’ way.
- There are no ways you ‘should’ feel.
- There is no linear, one-size-fits-all framework that can be applied to all grievers.
- Grief is a non-linear experience, unique to each individual.
The most famous model is likely Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five, now seven stages of grief, initially outlined in her book On Death and Dying. What is very important to note, is that when she outlined and coined these stages, she was talking about a person facing a terminal illness (which is also a grieving experience). Many have misconstrued her work in unintended ways, including applying her initial five stages of grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance) to all loss types, not just to someone faced with their own impending death. In a later book, On Grief and Grieving, Kubler-Ross and David Kessler outlined how the stages could be applied to grief in a broader sense.
One way the stages can be misconstrued is by believing all grievers, of any loss type, need to go through the stages in some set progression. Kubler-Ross and Kessler both refuted this and acknowledged that people may experience multiple “stages” at once and that people will have unique experiences.
We are passionate about helping others understand this vital point, as we know grievers who have felt they were grieving the “wrong way” because their experience diverged from what they understood of the stages of grief. There is already so much isolation and pain associated with grief- grievers do not need yet another source of grief in believing they are broken or hopeless in their most difficult times.
Regardless of where someone is in their grief, the key is to recognize that:
- Grief is the normal and natural reaction to the loss of any kind
- Grief is the conflicting feelings when something familiar ends or changes (maybe you do feel angry and depressed… but maybe you feel other things as well)
- It is possible to feel many emotions at once, even totally contradictory emotions (i.e. sadness and relief, guilt and compassion).
- Grief is unique to each individual
- Grief is different from unresolved grief. Unresolved grief is around what we wish was different, better, or more (Grief Recovery Handbook), or unmet wishes or expectations for the future.
Identifying what is incomplete for us, and finding a way to communicate it, is how we can start to heal our hearts. It is how we move through those conflicting emotions to a place where we have hope of not being stuck in that painful place forever.
It can be important for people to assess what they learned about grief and loss, to see what resonates for them, and what may be contributing to making them feel lacking or broken in some way.
Time and again we witness the relief of grievers in learning that grief is hard all around, normal and natural, and there is no one way to grieve.
We will always have our losses, and we can’t always control what happens to us in life. Grief is a part of life, and it isn’t inherently a bad thing no matter how much it can hurt or disrupt our lives. It is in giving it space and learning tools to navigate with more ease that we can accept the suck and have more grace by not fighting or hiding our feelings from ourselves and others.
It can be helpful to have a framework for navigating grief, and we understand that is the allure of seeing if the stages of grief are related to your personal experience. Grief can feel so messy and sometimes it can feel so tempting to grasp at any sense of 'order'.
If your emotions do fall within the stages of grief, or if you understand that your grief experience can be unique even within the framework of the stages of grief and that it brings you some comfort, then that is wonderful. And if you do not relate to set stages, please know you are not alone and that it is completely okay and normal.
There is a lot of misleading information about grief out there, and sometimes it is because concepts such as the stages of grief were taken out of context.
We encourage you to reflect on your own journey, and where you can have compassion for the non-linear journey that grief can be.
One thing is true about grief - it is non-linear and will ebb and flow from moment to moment.
We love how in Last Chance Charlene the various grievers come to an understanding that there can be so many - millions in fact - “stages” or cycles of grief. BraveMaker did a wonderful job in displaying how grief can look different for different people, and that it is in feeling and sharing our experience that we can start to heal.
We at Yahdav & Hanlon are here to help you understand your personal relationship with grief and to teach tools to help you find completion in unresolved grief.
You do not have to go at it alone.
Develop your personalized grief support action plan with our "Grief & Gratitude" workbook.
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