As a clinical psychologist, I was well aware of the literature on bereavement, especially the five stages of grief as expounded by Elisabeth Kubler-Rosshere. In brief, these stages are:
Denial. This is not happening to me.
Anger. It’s not fair that this is happening to me.
Bargaining. I’ll do anything you command me, dear Higher Power, to reverse what is happening to me.
Depression. This is happening to me and life has no meaning for me.
Acceptance. OK, it’s happened to me and now I must learn to cope and move on.
These stages were based on her work with people who were ill and dying.
When I first read about her theory, I had some questions about this “one size fits all” approach to the process of grieving but, as that wasn’t my major professional area of research and interest, I let it go.
Now, as a member of an all-male bereavement group, I have discovered that my earlier intuition was correct. While I have never attended a mixed gender bereavement group, comments by fellow widowers who had attended mixed-gender groups suggest that men and women grieve differently. Likewise, new emerging literature on the differences between how men and women grieve suggests that many women feel betrayed and abandoned when their spouse dies, while many men report feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Contrary to some of the literature on the subject, men shed their fair share of tears – especially during the early months of loss, and again later on when they least expect it.
However, my greatest disagreement with some of the profession literature is with the idea that grieving is hierarchical in nature, and that if you don’t experience some of the stages, then you are in denial or in need of psychiatric help.
This is just not true, in my experience and in many others. Grieving is personal. Simply said, again, no one size fits all. How a person grieves is based on many factors. To name a few: the length of the marriage, whether it was a good marriage or not, whether the spouse died after a prolonged illness or suddenly and unexpectedly, on one’s own age and generation, whether there are young or adult children also grieving and in need of nurturing, and one’s temperamental and genetic make-up.
I also find fault with the concept that since you lost your spouse, if you don’t find another significant other your period of grieving has not come to an end and you have “not moved on.”
Just as there are many different ways to grieve, so too there are many different ways to move on with your life. While we are social creatures and it’s nice to become involved in a new relationship, it certainly isn’t the prerequisite for you to return to the world of the living. What is important is that you just don’t sit around at home brooding, staring at the TV alone. Investing your energy in work, hobbies or a new career are alternative ways of coping, moving on and getting back into the swing of life.
Remember life is for the living. The more you begin to enjoy doing something again, the more you will begin to look forward to doing more. Unlike viscous cycles that just get you deeper and deeper into the mud of despair, getting on is like a positive spiral that grows hope exponentially.