A “hot” topic
The theme of death has become topical as in this period like never before. We are afraid of getting sick, afraid that our loved ones will get sick and we will lose them. There are those who have lost someone and have not even been able to say goodbye. Talking about death is actually very useful, while for us all it is a taboo, it is no coincidence that cemeteries are built far from homes. If we talked more about this topic, we would know better what to say and what to do in front of a person who is passing. Just as we will know better to stay close to those who have suffered a loss. Even contemplating our death could help us to live each day more authentically; listening to our inclinations without being conditioned by the expectations of others; but also, by deciding to devote more time to loved ones and less to work. Two of the most common regrets of dying people are precisely the fact of not having fully lived their aspirations or their affections.
The duration and intensity of the stages of mourning are different depending on how close the emotional bond was with that person and whether it was a sudden loss or after a long illness. There are personal protective factors, which allow us to experience bereavement better, such as a good support network formed by friends, family … Or risk factors, which may not favor a smooth grieving process, such as suffering, or depression, already in the preceding period.
The stages of mourning
The stages listed below are the same that we go through when faced with other types of bereavement, such as when we are broken up with in a love relationship. The first phase is that of denial. It is the phase in which we deny reality and it is a phase that has its own function, to spare the person suffering beyond measure. It is useful not to force the person to quickly become aware of it, but it is necessary to respect his times.
The second phase is the anger phase. There is anger at the loss experienced as an injustice. It is the phase in which we turn a lot to others or, on the contrary, we close in on ourselves. It is a phase to which a lot of attention is paid in therapy, because if a person stays there for too long it prolongs his suffering.
The third is the bargaining phase. We say to ourselves: “Overcoming this moment will make me stronger”. It is the phase in which the person realizes the irreversibility of the loss, even in the alternation of discouragement and hope of being able to regain control of his life. We look for ways and strategies to get better.
The fourth phase is the phase of depression, there is maximum awareness of the loss. We focus on what can no longer be done with that person as this amplifies the suffering.
Symptoms such as headaches, weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleepiness, anger, frustration, persistent sadness, desire to isolate oneself may occur in this phase.
The fifth phase is that of acceptance. During acceptance the person can still be sad and angry but to a lesser extent than before, the person is ready to consider what happened in the natural order of things and to move on.
What can be done?
As I always tell my patients we are designed to survive any type of bereavement and all of these phases occur naturally. What psychotherapy can do is speed up this process or help the person move on to the next stage if they get stuck in one of these. In therapy, the characteristics of the person, their suffering, the bond they had with those who are no longer there are investigated, in order to better adapt the treatment. Sometimes I happen to help the person to stay with the pain; because it is only by passing through it that the pain can go away. For example, withheld sadness becomes anxiety or panic, which is why imaginative exercises to retrace memories can be useful; but they must be proposed only by the “experts”, who know well the most useful ways and times to suggest. Sometimes I recommend writing letters addressed to the person who passed away, to tell him/her/them what there was no time to say, and the person in this case usually feels liberation, but sometimes they can also reach a conscious awareness that helps them get better. Sometimes it is necessary to work to drain the anger. If you are close to someone who has just suffered a loss, try to listen to them without rushing to comfort them. It is much more useful to give them a hug, to tell them that we are there.
– On death and dying– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.