Phases of the Grief Journey

Grief is a journey. As journeys proceed you usually go through a variety of landscapes. When you travel from Philadelphia to San Diego – which I’ve done with my kids at least 5 times – you go through the Pennsylvania woods and mountains, different kinds of plains, the desert, more mountains of a different kind. As you approach San Diego, the last 100 miles takes you over one ridge of hills after another. With each crest of a ridge the next valley is greener and greener as the earth takes advantage of the moisture from the sea. Those ridges are transition from the desert to the ocean waterfront. Grief is a journey through stages. You’ve probably seen or heard of “stages” of grief: shock/denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. I don’t particularly like this language to describe grief. Grief is not linear or compartmentalized as the word stage implies. I have a diagram of a cycle that goes round and round. I like that better as one does go through various phases like shock, numbness, despair, rebuilding, restoration. The cycle itself demonstrates that you go round and round before coming to a place of equilibrium later on.

Other descriptions that I like: o “Grief is a chaos of emotion” said a pastor after the death of his wife. o 3 phases: “I can’t do this!” “I wonder how others do this?” and “I want to help others.” (Marilyn Heavilin)

At a recent meeting I facilitated, a mom mentioned that she’s in the anger stage. She clarified, that now that it’s been over five years since her infant daughter died, she’s been through the numb or apathetic stage and the depressed stage, now is her anger stage. Things in life that she used to not even notice are now big enough aggravations to garner her attention and passion to correct what’s wrong. She wants to and needs to change the world! Or at least her corner of the world. Anger generates energy and she wants to direct it against injustices and real problems. I just want you all to know this is not unusual in the level of passion nor in the time table. It takes more time than those who haven’t had the experience can possibly guess, for the bereaved parent to find a place of rest and equilibrium.

So if you’re grieving, or if you know someone who is, be patient. Know that the phases move on but the journey is long. It’s not a parenthesis in your life either; because you can be involved in real activities: sports, family events, school for the surviving kids, learning, growing, and giving, influencing others for good. These things happen in your life, even while grief is still a conscious component of every dayl

But, like my journeys to San Diego, you go over one ridge of grief after another, and soon you’ll see valleys which are more green, more spacious, more peaceful, more fruitful as you get nearer to the shore of Peace. As you get nearer to the Father who has been with you all along the journey.