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Phases of Grief

According to Carol Staudacher ("Men And Grief") there are 3 distinct phases of grief: 

  1. Retreating: the phase of shock, numbness, disbelief and denial,
  2. Working through: allowing and working through emotions like anger, guilt, fear, sadness
  3. Resolving: adjusting, taking on a new identity, reinvesting time, developing new goals
Each of those phases of grief confronts us with new challenges, problems we must solve for a successful recovery from grief. (Hannah Lothrop)

The First of the Phases of Grief

woman crying photo courtesy of Dnabi

The first hours, days or weeks after losing a child (or any loved one for that matter) are predominated by feelings of pain and shock. You feel numb and confused like in a big hazy cloud. You can't or don't want to believe what happened. This pain can be quite physical, aching arms or a chest that seems locked and hurts with every breath.

You don't know what to believe in anymore or if it will be possible to trust again at all. Everything that seemed to be so safe and unchangeable before seems very breakable or not to exist anymore now.

While according to Carol Staudacher men often seem to skip the second phase, everyone seems to go through this first phase.

Tasks of this phase are:
  • to temporarily manage the:

  • pain and anxiety shock,
  • numbness
  • disbelief
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • denial
  • getting hold of and testing reality.

Things that might help during this time:
Hugs - lots of hugs to overcome the shock. During a time where everything is in question and you feel lost in this big hazy cloud, being hugged is like finding a buoy in the midst those stormy waters, warm and reassuring.
Talking about the loss, telling your story - in the beginning your thoughts go in circles and it is really hard to catch this snail by its tail. Getting those thoughts out so you can hear or read them helps to find important details, patterns, a glimpse on the whole. It restructures and helps out of the confusion and disorientation.
Going for a walk, get moving in any way, best outdoors - this is another way to clear the mind. You might not remember where you went - being absorbed in your thoughts but moving those muscles helps to get oxygen in your system which again helps to clear your thoughts.
Weeping and lamenting, expressing your loss through noises - crying and shouting it all out, the pain, anger and disappointment is a really great way to heal. Unfortunately it's not well taken in our society and this crying happens alone. In other cultures everyone weeps together and all those emotions can be expressed much more openly.
This is not the time to suppress feelings because they might be selfish or in other ways not fit the occasion. Instead acknowledge every feeling there might be. Only by doing that they can be really released.
Laying hands on your tummy - if you feel empty inside. Sense what's going on inside you or have a conversation with your dead baby or anything you can hold in its place.
Aroma therapy, Bach Flower therapy, Breath therapy and massages may be of some help as well.

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Working through
The Second of the Phases of Grief

This second phase of grief is the time to slowly adjust to a life without your baby. The goal of this phase is to detach from you loved one but not from your emotions. It's the time to feel and accept the pain of the loss and to give it or find a meaning for what has happened.

This is the time to work with emotions like anger and guilt, depression, being left, ...

Woman often do that by confronting and enduring, thinking, talking, crying and writing about it. They usually use more language based strategies to work through their grief.

Grieving fathers often have a hard time to allow and show emotions like that. There are 4 alternative strategies men usually use to deal with grief. 

But there are also lots of activities that can help grieving fathers and mothers alike.

Resolving / Recovery From Grief
The Third of the Phases of Grief

finger heart photo courtesy of Marinka van Holten

The recovery from grief is a process that involves a lot of thinking, reorganizing and restructuring.

The goal is to adjust to the new environment, take on a new identity and reinvest time and energy to develop new goals.

Giving a meaning to the sad experience surely helps to grow and turn this experience into a positive force. In essence you channel the pain so that it can help you heal.

To use this new experience to help others is a great way to let go of the self centred grieving. Turning towards others can help to heal ourselves.
Organizing fund raising events to support more research into stillbirth, fostering children that had a not so good start in life, being there for other grieving parents, are just some great ways to do that.

When you look at the sky at night, it will be as if  all the stars were laughing, because in one of them I shall be living, because in one of them I shall be laughing.
And when your sorrow is comforted ... you will be content that you have known me.
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince)

Lothrop compares it to a tree that awakens in spring and grows new leaves and flowers. 

A new interest in activities and relationships brings with it new hope,
regained concentration, memory, ability to think and a new sense of
balance and peacefulness.

To get there often feels like moving in waves or spirals. Phases of deep grief and longing for answers take turns with phases of calmness and contentedness. 

This is normal and going back to the 2nd phase of grief doesn't mean that you start again at point zero - rather similar topics are worked on again and again at higher and higher levels. The strong emotions connected with it will soften with time. The waves will stretch further and further apart.

Some people choose to mark the end of their time to grief with a special ritual. When that would be only you can decide by listening to your inner voice. 

Some ideas for such a ritual:

  • a memorial service
  • fasting
  • a fire ritual, where you (and maybe other close people) write down what you want to keep and what you are ready to let go in connection with the loss. Then, in a ceremony you'll let go and burn the list with things to let go of and keep the one with the things to keep.
  • having a special dance at a special place
  • whatever feels helpful to you to mark that shift (climbing a mountain alone, starting a little diary to collect all the blessings...)

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The 5 Tasks of The Grieving Process 
Problems to be Solved during the 3 Phases of Grief

Blocked grief and a feeling of being stuck somehow is often a sign that at least one of the 5 tasks of grieving isn't solved successfully yet. Grief therapy can be useful to work through those blocks.

Those 5 tasks of grieving are (according to Lothrop):
  1. Accepting the reality of the loss
  2. Allowing yourself to feel the emotions of the loss like pain, anger, guilt...
  3. Facing a life without the child
  4. Giving meaning to the experience
  5. To dare to form new bonds and try new activities


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