Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Grief Is Painful, Personal, and Stageless; Don’t Believe Otherwise

Grieve as you must and forget the alleged pattern it must undergo because there is no rigid pattern.

Life is a circle, and we grieve when it comes time for a circle to be completed. In so doing, we experience many things, depression, loneliness, regret, relief, anxiety, and, perhaps, a sense of guilt in some cases. How we endure any or all of these emotions is entirely our own, not something laid out by a researcher.

We own our grief, and anyone telling us how to grieve is an interloper in a natural process in a sample of one. Yes, that’s research jargon, but a sample of one is just as relevant and valid as a sample of 100.

What is the reason this is today’s featured material? For one, someone to whom I am closely related is grieving now. Second, I am highly resistant to the insistence of others regarding how we should grieve or that there are stages of grief. Yes, this is personal.

All of us have grieved in the past and will grieve in the future, and we understand what it was and may be for us. No one should have the temerity to tell us how to grieve appropriately. Yes, I agree that rituals help just as churches, temples, and mosques help, but they don’t tell us how to grieve.

Rituals attempt to help us heal via the belief that we’ve performed something quasi-mystical that will be ameliorative. And they needn’t be religious in character, simply what is meaningful to us and the loved person or even a pet.

Some people will light candles on special occasions associated with the departed, and some may raise a glass. One man in New York City left funds for his friends to have a yearly party commemorating his life. Were those friends grieving? I’m sure they were, but they commemorated a life, not a death. Families may continue to celebrate the birthdays of those who have passed.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had her heyday in the 70s-80 when everyone studied death and dying and her alleged stages of grieving. How death got to be so popular is a question I can’t answer. I’d propose that death is still feared and people wanted so reassurance or help with others who were dying.

I’m not alone in my debunking of this “theory.” I do not believe she had a theory because her stages don’t meet a theory’s criteria. And, yes, I was subjected to someone who firmly believed in Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief and told me I needed to experience them when my mother died. I took my own path, and I’m fine. I can’t believe how insistent she was. She tried to make me feel as though it were pathological not to go through the stages as outlined.

Someone else who believes as I do, Russell P. Friedman of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, Calif. (no, I’m not pitching for him here), has been quoted as follows: “no study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what is defined as such can’t be called stages. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss… No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships.”

Do I have beliefs about grief that may not have been subjected to rigorous studies? Of course, I do, and I don’t think everything can be studied and broken down to “truth” when it comes to grief. Yes, there will be those who endlessly force it through some mental pastry bag of their beliefs, pushing the grieving to come to their conclusions, not those of the aggrieved. For that, I am genuinely sorry and concerned about the grieving person who is subjected to that type of therapeutic demagoguery.

For me, grief is an expression of love and loss. I once heard of a man whose mother had recently died, and his father was considering dating and eventual marriage again. The father’s friend questioned how he could date or marry again after his wife died. The father replied that his marriage had been so loving and wonderful that he wanted that again. The circle was beginning anew.

What about grieving after a pet has died? Loving a pet may not be precisely like loving a person, but the loss can be incredible. Pet are often guardians, loving companions who ask little and provide much. They leave a space in our lives that cannot be denied when they are gone. I wouldn’t deny it, nor would I refuse to see that the loss will be grieved.

Who am I to say that people should not utilize pet cemeteries or any other form of memorial for a beloved pet? Of course, there are times when the loss may cause somewhat irrational behavior, and that needs attention, too. But it is a loss and will be grieved.

We know so little about animals and are only beginning to recognize that they have emotions and form strong attachments and love. Having a pet is a reciprocal attachment of love. Who can say it’s not? We are still children wandering in the scientific wilderness in too many things.

If you love, you will grieve. How you do it will be determined by you.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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