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Bereavement and an Exploration of Grief Models

Several grief model theories presented below attempt to break down the very complex behavioral, spiritual, cognitive, and emotional process into discrete steps.

5 Stage Grief Model
Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book “On Death and Dying” describes five stages experienced by people who learn they have a terminal illness. Frequently it is also applied in the context of the grief associated with the loss of a loved one. These stages can appear in any order, can overlap and even go back and forth:

1. Denial. Generally, this is a temporary defense and a knee-jerk reaction to the news.
2. Anger. The individual now realizes the inevitability and responds with anger.
3. Bargaining. This stage holds a belief that the illness/loss can be postponed or reversed.
4. Depression. This is an important and very difficult part of the grieving process.
5. Acceptance. In this last stage, individuals come to terms with their illness/loss.

TEAR Grief Model
Another frequently used model in professional grief counseling settings is the TEAR model. This model is most helpful when the ‘honeymoon’ period is over, where friends have stopped calling because they believe the bereaved should be healed and have experienced closure, and that things are going back to normal as this is the period when the true grieving begins.

T = To accept the reality
E = Experience the pain
A = Adjust to the new environment
R = Reinvest in the new reality

7-Stage Model
Borrowing from and expanding upon the Kubler-Ross model, a 7-stage model contains the original 5 stages and adds two new stages:

1. Shock/Denial. The first reaction to the loss is a numbing disbelief, which may be accompanied by denial. This provides an emotional barrier against being overwhelmed.
2. Pain/Guilt. As the shock fades, deep pain surfaces and it is important that the bereaved work through this phase without mood-altering substances. Guilty feelings may arise over experiences shared (or not shared) with the deceased and life is tumultuous for the bereaved.
3. Anger/Bargaining. Emotions kept deep inside arise as frustration turns into anger, and bargaining frequently comes into play that beg for a way out of the pain.
4. Depression/Lonliness/Reflection. As friends believe the bereaved is mourning less, next comes extended sadness, and encouragement is not necessarily helpful as the grieving person must work through this phase alone. The magnitude of the loss becomes apparent and feelings of despair may arise.
5. Upward Turn. The bereaved starts to accept and adjust to the new life conditions, is calmer and more organized.
6. Reconstruction. As the intense pain lessens, the mind sharpens and the bereaved begins to seek realistic solutions to life’s problems.
7. Acceptance/Hope. In this last phase, the bereaved accepts the situation and has adjusted to the new reality.

Certainly it is helpful to explore these models to understand that human grief experiences are normal, but it is important to keep in mind that grieving is a very personal, individualistic process based on the many facets of the grieving person’s life. Relating to a grief model may be helpful in the difficult period following a loss and may help the bereaved learn to find new meaning in life and accept the new set of life conditions presented to them.

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