Just as every person is unique, we all respond to loss in our own way. Yet at the same time, there are certainly patterns to the way people in general handle grief. An article from today's Wall Street Journal tackles perceptions and realities of grieving for everyday Americans. Many of us have understood that we typically handle loss in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Yet this commonly held outline might not be such a step-by-step process in our real lives.
According to George Bonnano, a professor at Columbia University and the author of The Other Side of Sadness, grief can resemble "a swinging pendulum. People get very upset and then feel better - over and over again. A person may be crying and then suddenly laugh at a funny joke or memory. In time, the periods between pendulum swings get longer and gradually the pain subsides." Bonnano also found that among half of his study subjects, the main symptoms of bereavement had lifted within six months, allowing these people to lead normal lives.
Psychologist Dr. Camille Wortman, meanwhile, advises us to focus on what is most important in our life and "stay in touch with [our] values. This can activate positive emotion, which provides a respite from grief." What specialists call behavioral activation can get people out of a downward spiral, enabling them to remember what gives their life meaning: God, family, friends and the various pursuits they find engaging and worthwhile. Reaching out to others - loved ones, someone else lonely, those in pain, those less fortunate - should remind us all that life is a gift to share with others, and even in the midst of loss and grieving, we can rediscover joy. Grief is not eternal, but Love is.