Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stages of Grief

Many of us have had a loss of some kind in our lives.  For some it is a divorce or the loss of a deep friendship.  For others it is a break up of a boyfriend or a girlfriend.  Perhaps some experience loss of a job or career such as someone who separates from a 20-year career in the military.  Finally, perhaps the hardest loss is death.  The very first death that I can recall was my childhood pet, Sindy the black and white cat. I grieved very deeply over this cat.  It’s hard for others to imagine, but in my eyes she was my very best friend for half my life at the time.  In high school I lost my grandfather and I hurt deeply with that as well.  With each loss, no matter how small the loss may seem to others, I believe there is an element of grief. 

Long before I decided to get my degree in Accounting, I tossed around majoring in some kind of child psychology. I even took a few classes that have actually been a (providential) help to my current situation.  In these classes I learned with any loss, there are 5 basic stages.  These stages of grief are as follows: Shock or denial, anger, depression, sadness and acceptance.   Everyone goes through these stages in one way or another, and I’ve learned that it’s actually healthy to do so.  It is how God allows us to heal and move forward in life.

Shock or Denial. I’ve learned this is a natural unconscious defense mechanism of our mind that protects us from an emotional overload that would otherwise overwhelm or cripple us physically. The shock or denial enables our minds to adjust to and absorb our loss slowly.  Many people said they could not believe how “strong” I was or am. I think until this past Saturday, I was actually still in shock or denial.  I also believe that any strength I have managed to muster up is actually from the Lord.  Psalm 121:2 says, “My strength comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth (and Maker of my beautiful son, Brandon).”

Anger. As our minds start to process the loss, we first seek to blame an external source for our loss. “Why didn’t the 911 dispatcher answer faster?”  “Why didn’t Brandon tell me he was hurt so I could help him?” Anger includes feeling a personal attack against our sense of self-worth, needs, or convictions. We may become defensive and look to protect our wounded hearts—which has closed up and hardened to protect itself. We may even use the wording, “This is not fair!!” Admittedly this week I have actually said, “What kind of sick and twisted joke is God playing on us? What kind of God allows a family to fight for a child for 8 months, fall in love with him head over heels for another 8 months and then jerk him from our arms without any notice? That doesn’t even make any sense!!!”

At times I have also blamed God because I know that He could have prevented our loss. Many people, however, believing anger to be a sin, and quickly repress the anger that they feel toward God or toward other people without even realizing that the anger is still alive within them. I’ve learned that this is actually where the danger lies.  If I try to repress anger towards God or other people, I can actually get “stuck” in this phase and I’ve learned this is unsafe because getting stuck in any one of these stages can result in clinical depression.  Ephesians 4: 26 says that anger in and of itself is not sin. Thus, the anger that follows a loss is not a sin; it is a normal human emotional response to a situation that we are trying to adjust to. By God’s grace, we can move through our anger to a place of acceptance and forgiveness, but we should not feel guilty for the temporary feelings of anger that are a normal part of our grief response.

Depression. During this phase, our anger is turned inward. This is often the initial opening of our hearts where we look for our responsibility in the situation. Sometimes this leads to healthy reflection, and other times to unwarranted self-blaming. The grieving person feels guilt—authentic guilt, false guilt, or a combination of the two. We ask ourselves at this stage: “How was I to blame?”  I have actually done this A LOT this week.  “If I had slept upstairs all night with him, instead of just 6 hours maybe I would have known he was more than just sick.” “If I had known where the thermometer was I could have taken his temperature and would have noticed that it was likely below the normal body temperature.” “If I had recognized the smell of his last vomiting incident as blood, I would have rushed him to the hospital and he’d still be alive.”  “If I had insisted on giving him a shower I would have noticed a bruise on his stomach and asked him about it.”….”If……” 

I actually hate the word “depression” because I associate it with clinical depression—the kind you need medication from.  But it is important to understand that the depression component of the grief reaction is not a true clinical depression, even though it carries some of the same features.  Thankfully for most people it is a temporary stage in a normal process that we all must go through before we can reach emotional healing.

Sadness. At this phase, we feel we can honestly and transparently grieve our pain safely. The reality of our loss is much clearer. The defenses have dropped enough for us to understand the impact that this change will have on our lives, and we can experience the grief that comes with the readjustment and void that is left behind. As we experience this sadness, we also seek to fill the new void that is left in our lives. I personally feel that only our Lord and Savior can truly fill my wide, open, void that is left now that Brandon is gone.

 Resolution and Acceptance. At this point, we are willing to re-focus from the pain and accept life without whatever was removed from us. It does not mean we have forgotten our precious son if we accept that he is gone.  We may feel free to go back to reflect upon whatever was lost, but these thoughts no longer consume us. The void is no longer what we wake up thinking about,  go to bed thinking about and everything in between.  Sweet Brandon cannot be replaced—not ever. But we can understand that spot in our heart can remain a special place where we can go to from time to time to visit cherished memories of our wonderful 8 months together. We can reflect back and remember the impact, influence, and legacy that Brandon had on our lives and thank God for the opportunity of knowing him.


  1. Wow, this would be helpful to a lot of people. I won't forget these stages...just like I never forgot a sermon that I heard about depression (which I took notes for, even though at the time I never battled with depression). It really helped me through some serious postpartum depression. I can't really compare what I went through to your depression stage, but I hope it helps! Psalm 42...a depressed David talks to himself and reasons with himself (like you're doing) with reasons he shouldn't be depressed. Seriously, my talking myself out of my depression (with many reasons NOT to be depressed) made the difference in me going insane or at least going on pills. It didn't work overnight, but it sure consistently worked me on my way to WELL starting when I was at my breaking point. (Lindsay N.)

  2. Still hanging with you and praying...


  3. Carinda, I am 51 & you have inspired me to memorize scripture more than any pastor! I love reading your blog! You eventually have answered every question that I have about everything...I still wonder whether or not it was painful when it happened...must not have felt that serious or he would have told you...???
    What you are telling us I believe will help many through things they wouldn't understand had they not read it the way YOU put it!
    Love you all!
    Kathy Brewer ...&Dennis & Katie

  4. I am so amazed at your ability to think and write these things when all is so fresh to you. I stumbled across your blog through a mutual facebook friend last week, and I think I have now read everything you have posted on this blog. I am amazed by your story with Brandon. My extended family is heavily involved in an adoption ministry, and I have heard many adoption stories, all unique in their own way. But yours has touched my heart like none other. Perhaps it is the way you have of writing such a personal story, perhaps it is that I have an 11 year old son and can imagine what you have been through, or perhaps it is just that what you have said really speaks to my heart at this point in my life. I have thought about and prayed for your family many times over the last week. Keep writing, please. I'll keep praying for your family!