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Bereavement: Ways to Cope to Get to the New Normal After the Loss

Updated on May 11, 2014
Public footpath in England.
Public footpath in England. | Source

“They” say you will be happy again some day. “They” say time will heal things or “this too shall pass.” And you probably say, “YOU are full of baloney (or worse.)”

Some losses are little daily don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff experiences. Others are devastating. I recently encountered a description of healed life after bereavement called “the new normal” which I feel is very helpful.

Dealing with Bad Change

In the 1960’s, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. published research on how terminally ill people deal with the news of their imminent passing. Her book for lay people, On Death and Dying, is still used to educate professionals working in hospice and other health fields. Although her original findings and way of organizing the process focused on preparing for one’s own death, the process seems to be consistent for anyone adjusting to a serious, chronic bad change. Examples include a diagnosis of infertility, loss of a limb, or loss of an important person in one’s life.

Five Stages of Kubler-Ross

Kübler-Ross separated what she observed into five steps – though she never claimed that every single person goes through all five. Also, this model acknowledges that someone can cycle through the stages in various orders and have them ebb, flow, and return. It is a construct – a way of thinking - about the adjustment period. At the moment, there are no lab tests to indicate whether or not, or in which stage a human is processing.

The five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For someone in bereavement, it may be very nurturing to recognize that these sorts of thoughts are possible and rather common. One can give herself permission to feel these ways.

Examples of the denial thoughts are “No, that didn’t happen. It couldn’t have happened. It’s impossible. Quit messing around with me; it’s not funny.”

The anger thinking is often directed at a Supreme Being or at the person who left. Anger with God or Fate might be “Why did you let this happen? If you are so good and compassionate, why did you do this to me? And to the kids? You don’t know how to run the world – that was a good person you took away. If you want to know who to kill off, I’ll tell you who.” Anger at the person who left could sound like “Why did you do this to me? Why were you so stupid as to get yourself into the accident (illness, situation). I am so angry that you left me holding the bag on my own.”

The bargaining thought process is also directed at the Supreme Being or Fate with a let’s make a deal proposition to turn back the hands of time or to change a health diagnosis. For the latter, it can also be the plea for a miracle. Examples of this stage are “If you let me get pregnant, I’ll volunteer at the Food Pantry every month.” “If you bring her/him back, I’ll go to ________(fill in the name of organized religion) services every week. If you let me live, I’ll give ten percent of my income to charity. If I go to the sacred shrine and fast, you must heal me.”

Depression thinking may sound like “This is too painful too bear. I am without hope.”

Acceptance thinking does not necessarily occur last. It can pop in and out of one’s conscious thought throughout the grieving. Examples are “Ok, now I am single.” “ Now I am alone; I must take on this list of tasks.” “If I really am blind forever, I will start to learn how to eat, cook, get around. Other people have done it, therefore I can do it.”

Equally Helpful: the New Normal

Recent heavy news coverage of the Kyle Pagerly local tragedy included an article describing other police widows reaching out to console and support his widow Alecia. An expression they used, “the New Normal,” struck me as enlightening. The gist of this mantra is that one can and WILL be happy again but not in the same way. It almost predicts a metamorphosis into a new person with alternate – neither better nor worse – ways of enjoying life. I believe this philosophy dovetails and complements the acceptance stage of the Kübler-Ross construct extremely well. To me, it allows for remembering the prior life and the loss, yet also acknowledges that someone has moved on.

What if there was no more happiness?

Concurrent with the Pagerly tragedy, our newspaper ran a nationally syndicated column which addressed grieving. It discussed situations in which a bereaved person (especially a surviving spouse) is subtly pressured by the family to remain in grief mode – sort of as the official family griever/rememberer. In addition, it examined persons who have not moved out of bereavement for other reasons. The blunt conclusion was that if an individual forever pines and stays stuck in unhappiness, then two people have died instead of one.

As raw and heartbreaking as loss and grieving are, I do not think it is the Divine Being’s plan for two to die.

Sheep in a misty meadow in England.
Sheep in a misty meadow in England. | Source

My Prayer for All I Love

I wish and ask that we can learn our life lessons without harm to ourselves or others. If we must experience pain, I ask the Big Cheese of Goodness to make it of the cut finger intensity, rather than catastrophic loss. Please.

Nonetheless, mortal life for some of us humans includes a measure of bereavement. Perhaps these ideas about stages of adjustment and a new normal life with happiness will help.

Text copyright 2011 Maren E. Morgan


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    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Baygirl33, I am so sorry to hear about this loss in your life. But, stop beating yourself up, girlfriend. If you can say that you had 58 happy years together with one man, I'd say you did everything right. The night thing - a friend of mine in a quite similar situation is sleeping on the couch. It helps her because it isn't a "lonely bed." Maybe this would help? prayers going out for you, luv.

    • baygirl33 profile image

      victoria 6 years ago from Hamilton On.

      Hi Maren,

      Thanks for sharing.

      Melovy directed me to your hub,and I'm grateful.

      I am having trouble getting used to the new normal.I lost my husband this summer after 58 happy years together.We have never slept away from each other and the nights are devastating,as is coming home to an empty house.I think I am coping (if it can be done ,I can do it.)but regret and sorrow come in waves in most inopertune times.I keep thinking of the things I should have,could have done.

      Your hub was helpful.

      Thank you.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks, Melovy. That's what I hoped -- that it would give a little food for thought and comfort to a few people.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 6 years ago from UK

      This is a very interesting and useful hub, giving a very clear explanation of the grieving process. When my second daughter was born very premature I went through a period of grief. I was very grateful that a nurse had explained this was normal, otherwise it would have been easy to feel ashamed for grieving when my daughter survived. But loss doesn’t come neatly packaged, and neither does grief. For that reason I think your hub provides a great service to others.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Fennelseed, big HUG to you. Sometimes life is &%#&@! rough. I am glad these ideas could help you.

    • Fennelseed profile image

      Annie Fenn 6 years ago from Australia

      This is a very interesting hub. As a breaved mother I would have to say I have not experienced the stages as identiyed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, however there seems to be expectation by those around me that I should. I am familiar with denial and clung to it for as long as I could, however after after 10 months I have come to accept that I have changed and seem to alternate between periods of depression and periods of high activity where I just want to achieve so much in order to make my son proud of me. I do feel quite strongly that to stay in a depressed state is a waste and like you say here is the loss of two lives not one. Thank you for this insightful information. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.