Commonly, grief has been described as a journey that one has to travel through in stages. The five distinct stages being Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I recently read this wonderful book entitled “Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss” by Sameet Kumar, PH.D that presented the grieving process as fluid, unpredictable and ever changing. Dr. Kumar explains that our journey with grief can be acute or subtle. Acute grief is when the feelings related to our loss are the most intense. We can only attend to those feelings at that moment in time. We may not be able to work, socialize or may feel like we cannot take care of ourselves during these times. This is how we feel immediately after our loss has occurred. Alternatively, subtle grief occurs once some healing time has passed after our loss. These are the islands of peacefulness, periods of time when we are calm, can smile again and experience life to its fullest potential. However, as we all know, the sadness is still there. We never forget our loss. It’s there under this calm, happy surface. As life continues, we may experience periods of acute grief triggered by something significant – a song, a smell or a special place, for example. Our deep sadness suddenly resurfaces! Those very same intense emotions reappear as they did immediately after our loss, even if it’s been years. Instead of describing the grief process in five distinct stages, he describes grief as “unfolding in the shape of a spiral staircase”. The acute and subtle grief dance round and round with each other reappearing in our lives at unexpected times. Grief is unpredictable. It’s not necessarily a “process” to be completed. It may feel like a set back to experience acute grief over and over. We can find comfort knowing that these periods of acute grief are temporary. As we heal, there is a renewal that propels us up this spiral staircase toward a fresh understanding of the relationship we have with our loss and the role it plays in our life. This relationship can be very powerful and the seed of great change for us — emotionally and spiritually.
Wow! I love the fresh look at grief and the spiral staircase analogy described by Dr. Sameet in his book “Grieving Mindfully”. It frees us from the burden of having to complete one stage prior to moving on to another. Spirals come in all sizes and can be never ending. They are as unique as our own personal experience with loss as it unfolds through time.
What has your experience with grief been like? It’s so unique for everyone. We would love to hear about yours!
Dr. Alicia Harris