It has been said, by those in the know, that the process of grief and loss has stages. While it is agreed these stages don’t necessarily show up in predictable patterns or in specific order, I am hear to tell you there’s much more than stages to the grief process than stages. The work of Kubler-Ross is important and accurate. However, to discuss grief and loss only in terms of stages makes it sound much too neat.

Think rather of a roller coaster. Instead of starting out level and climbing up, this one starts with a downward spiral. The world appears to be spinning out of control. It’s scary and you have no idea what to expect next. I don’t think anyone can really prepare for, or have the coping skills to deal with intense grief. This is, likely, even more pronounced when it is completely unexpected. It’s as if you plunge into a deep, dark tunnel, not sure if there is any light at the end. At least for me, at a point where I really thought I couldn’t stand it anymore, the grief seemed to level out and I came out of the tunnel and felt like I was climbing back into life, at least a little. Then just when I thought it was ok, down I went again and right back into the tunnel. Talk about feeling as if you have little or no control in your life. Up and down; down and up and almost no clue as to what would cause the shift in direction.

Perhaps my day was not going so well and I wanted to call my love for support. Or, surprisingly, even more poignant there was a day when my day had gone so very well. I had done a training and felt as if I had hit it right on. As soon as I got in the car, I reached for the phone. The rest of that evening and night and into the next day was a very dark tunnel. The loss washed over me and I couldn’t see the light at all.

Anger (never quite sure at what), sadness, grief, guilt (at even a moment of happiness); not stages; just all meshed together. People would ask what I was feeling and I couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t tell me. One moment I could be functioning well, at work or out with friends. Then, I’d get home and feel so alone, so frightened (not usually sure of what) and so out of control. So very powerless over my own feelings!

There is good news though. Each time I sank down into the tunnel, it seems the tunnel was not as dark, not as long and I felt stronger at the end. This was especially true once I realized that the tunnels would not last, once I was not so frightened, fearful I would not come out the other end. I was lucky. I always had someone at the other end of the tunnel waiting for me and helping me. I think this is possibly the most important ingredient in finding your way out. I had friends who didn’t rush me out of the tunnel but waited patiently for me to emerge. Since there seems to be so little logic to the roller coaster and its ride, logic does not shorten the time in the tunnel. But, calm reassurance seemed to lengthen the time before the tunnel loomed again.

If you are the one going through the grief, be patient with yourself. Expect and even learn to accept the tunnels. Treasure the times of light! Look for them. Let go of guilt: for not getting better faster, for getting better too fast, just for feeling how you feel. Healing and recovery is part of the process.

If you are a friend or family member of someone experiencing grief, be patient with them. Don’t try to talk them out of their tunnel. Don’t pull or push. Of course if they are not coming out at all, there may be cause for concern. But, for the most part, your loved one will come out and if you are there waiting, the next tunnel will be further away and less frightening.

I’m not sure if the sense of loss ever completely goes away. After almost four years, it is sill looming for me. But I am no long afraid of it. I know it is normal. I know I will survive and as time passes, I am learning to thrive again. My love will always hold a place in my heart and I take him with me, in the good times and in the bad.

So hold on. I can’t say enjoy the ride but know that it is not always and forever and that life does get back to a sense of level, even if that level is not what it was before.

Author's Bio: 

Gayle LaSalle, President and owner of Living Lily, is a professional trainer, teacher and former clinician, holding a BS in Psychology and an MS in Education.

Gayle is a Professional speaker and trainer with a message of hope, encouragement and need to lead life in the best way possible, at all times.Through speaking, training and personal coaching, Gayle’s goal is to help others realize their ability to make choices and allow themselves to thrive rather than simply survive.

Gayle's professional experience, allows her to show the audience realistic, practical and solution focused ideas on how to identify priorities, weigh outcomes and make powerful choices. Her personal experience allows her to do so in an authentic and legitimate manner. She shares more than simple ideas and facts. She shares life lessons. Gayle may make you may laugh or cry but she will definitely make you think!