With the current coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping through our country and the world. We are reminded daily of the suffering families and individuals are experiencing with the loss of their loved ones. Their grief and loss can become ours. The people that remain behind after they lose someone that they loved and cared for are experiencing great sadness, grief and loss. I am reminded of the five stages of grief and loss that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
The 5 stages of grief and loss are: Denial and isolation, Anger, Bargaining and Depression; Acceptance. People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
The stages of grief and mourning are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. Mourning occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness, the loss of a close relationship, or to the death of a valued being, human, or animal. In our bereavement, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. Contrary to popular belief, the five stages of loss do not necessarily occur in any specific order. We often move between stages before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death. Many of us are not afforded the luxury of time required to achieve this final stage of grief.
The death of our loved ones might inspire us to evaluate our own feelings of mortality. Throughout each stage, a common thread of hope emerges: As long as there is life, there is hope. As long as there is hope, there is life.
Many people do not experience the stages of grief in the order listed below, which is perfectly okay and normal. The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in precise order. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the grieving process — it helps you understand and put into context where you are.
Please keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. You should try and not judge how a person experiences their grief, as each person will experience it differently.
1. Denial & Isolation
The first reaction to learning about the terminal illness, loss, or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,” people often think. It is a normal reaction to rationalize our overwhelming emotions.
Denial is a common defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions. We block out the words and hide from the facts. We start to believe that life is meaningless, and nothing is of any value any longer. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family.
Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us even more angry.
Remember, grieving is a personal process that has no time limit, nor one “right” way to do it.
The doctor who diagnosed the illness and was unable to cure the disease might become a convenient target. Health professionals deal with death and dying every day. That does not make them immune to the suffering of their patients or to those who grieve for them.
Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to give you extra time or to explain just once more the details of your loved one’s illness. Arrange a special appointment or ask that he telephone you at the end of his day. Ask for clear answers to your questions regarding medical diagnosis and treatment. Understand the options available to you. Take your time.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements, such as:
If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
This is an attempt to bargain. Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable, and the accompanying pain. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
Guilt often accompanies bargaining. We start to believe there was something we could have done differently to have helped save our loved one.
There are two types of depression that are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.
The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.
Reaching this stage of grieving is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
According to a study published in the Journal of Communication, people in long-distance relationships were more likely to share meaningful thoughts and feelings with their partners than those who were not. Apparently, couples in long-distance relationships tend to idealize their partners’ behaviors, which leads to a greater sense of intimacy. However, being apart is definitely trying at times, even for couples with a relatively strong foundation.
Below, I have compiled edited excerpts from people that highlight the tenets of maintaining a successful long-distant relationship.
Tip 1: Be ready to work twice as hard as you did before.
“I met my boyfriend when I was in high school. In the fall he left to attend college in a year-round program in Utah. I stayed behind and finished up high school and then attended a local college. Even though we were young, we knew our relationship was the one worth fighting for so we were determined to get through those years. We have now been together a total of 12 years and have been married for the last five.”
What this couple learned is one of the foundations of a successful long-distance relationship. Long distance couples need to work toward having a very strong, solid base in their relationship Be open, honest, and trusting. Take the time to figure out how and when is best to communicate with each other. Work at making each other feel special, even without seeing each other. All the things you work on during a normal relationship will need extra effort for in a long-distance relationship.
Tip 2: Establish some ground rules about when you’ll see each other.
“My husband and I did long distance for five and a half years in total, with me working and going to school in Toronto and him in school in Florida. We had a rule to never go more than six weeks without seeing one another in person and we pretty much stuck to that. We were still living apart when we got married and it took one year after we were married for my green card to arrive, at which point I moved to the states.
Tip 3: Call and text each other throughout the day.
Don’t wait to talk with your partner at the end of the day when you are tired. Make your partner part of your daily life.
“My wife and I have had to do the long-distance thing twice in our relationship. When we first met she lived about an hour away in San Jose and I lived in San Francisco. After we got married I was working in San Francisco and she was in Los Angeles and we only got a few days a month to see each other. We learned that you have to call and text each other during the day and share what’s going on.”
Tip 4: Don’t forget to schedule regular online video chats.
It is really essential that you and your partner have a schedule for when you’ll talk. Today we are fortunate that we have so many different modes of contact these days, but texting is not enough to keep a long-distance relationship going. To maintain a strong relationship, you need to talk on the phone, but preferably something like Skype, as often as you can.
Tip 5: Try to think of the big picture.
“My partner and I met in university and had been together for about three and a half years before he had to leave Nigeria for his graduate degree in London. We were apart for about two years. We had to constantly remind ourselves that the distance was for a short while and as we really wanted to be together, we had to make it work. This sort of gives a perspective on things and helps sail through any difficulties. This was really important in the grand scheme of things. It also helped in our future plans, as I was more inclined to go London for my own graduate program, so that we could be together.”
Tip 6: Celebrate everything.
“My husband I had had known each other in college. He left for the Navy, and then we started dating. At that point, we were a few states away. Right after we became engaged, he was deployed overseas for a year. What we learned is this: Celebrate everything, even if you can’t be together in person. Life is too short not to and that’s especially true when you’re in a long-distance relationship.”
Tip 7: Get a credit card that earns airline miles.
“I was located in New York City while my husband Matt was in Miami Beach. We had a commuter relationship for two years. I was able to get complimentary flights almost every other month this way from my American Express card. Make sure to pick a card with an airline component so you can rack up the points
Tip 8: Don’t worry if every visit isn’t perfect.
There can be a lot pressure on a couple when they visit each other. Do you hang out with your partner and friends in a social setting or stay home to have one-on-one time? Does your family want to spend time with you and your partner? Does one of you need to work or study during the visit? Is there a big conversation hovering like an elephant in the room and do you have that talk face to face, when you have limited time together, or over the phone later? Some trips will be full of great memories and carefree times, and some will be full of fighting over big or small issues and that’s OK! ‘Real’ relationships are full of ups and downs and long-distance relationships are no exception.”
Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Addiction Specialist