Grief – A Universal But Unique Human Experience

My wife was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2007. She battled the stage 4 brain cancer for nearly four years. As her caregiver, I learned about the myriad of issues that family’s face when caring for someone with a life-threatening disease. Understanding human emotion is a difficult area of study. The emotion of grief is no exception. However, experts have provided frameworks that enable discussions about grief.

While different grief models exist, proposed by many experts, in 1969, Kübler-Ross published the first, widely accepted model of grief. This work provided insight into the emotions that people experience when facing death. Later, other researchers extended or revised the model to include other people who experience grief, not only to those facing death. The Kübler-Ross model includes five stages: 1) shock and denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance.

Most people move through these phases of grief. The length of time a person spends during each phase depends on the circumstances and is unique to each individual. It is very easy to compare ourselves to other people, and judge that something might be wrong with us, when we do not handle the grief similarly. Just remember, you are unique. Take comfort that your grief recovery is also unique to you. I learned about the grieving process during my studies several years before Lynne’s diagnosis and death. That understanding helped me to recognize my emotions and my feelings as well as to accept that they were normal, and to be expected, during a significant loss.

I observed many families over time that lost a loved one. One of the most profound losses a person experiences is that of a spouse because of the relationship depth and the additional potential for economic losses. Based on discussions with those losing a spouse, I believe that losing a spouse affects the relationship within the social circles that the couple shared. I believe there are two contributing factors. First, the surviving spouse drawers closer to their own family for support. Second, others within the social circles struggle with the surviving spouse due to a partial loss of identify, that is, the transition from a “couple” to that of a widow or widower. Observations also indicate an increased mortality rate among the surviving spouses, especially in older people due to the major stressor (Gass, 1987, as cited by Harvard Medical School).

In our society, most people recognize the inevitable nature of death but many rarely experience the process because societal norms tend to hide death behind the walls of health care facilities. This tends to deemphasize the process of grieving. This potentially decreases our ability cope. Sometimes during a terminal illness, a struggle exists between health care providers and families, regarding disclosure of all the facts surrounding the illness. Health care facilities and health care providers maintain various and differing ideologies. This is understandable because some people want the facts and others try to avoid the facts. This simply demonstrates the differences in the ability to cope with illness and the potentially impending death.


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