Good Grief (it’s healthy)

Dad's casket close up

It comes to all of us – the final farewell. A friend of mine has just recently had a loss in the family.  It was not unexpected. Everyone had had time to prepare for the inevitable. Regardless of that, it still hurts. The finality of it. The knowing that someone you deeply cared for is no longer physically here. Raw, new grief has rough edges. Edges that cut and bleed. But, as the saying goes, time heals all wounds. As trite as it may sound, nevertheless there is a great truth in it. Time does heal. Time softens the rough, bleeding edges, the acuity and sharpness of it. Time softly wraps the remembering and reminiscing  enabling us to look back with love and a smiling heart.

This got to me to thinking. As it often does. Thinking about loss and grief from a wider perspective. It is not just death that leads us into that valley of hurt. It is all kinds of losses that life throws at us-

  • loss of a job
  • loss of a relationship
  • loss of a home
  • loss of health

These are just a few that come to mind. Those big life losses come wrapped in a package of other losses. Take a job for instance. It’s loss of income. That can lead to  a real rollercoaster of other losses – relationships, home, health, dignity, self respect.

I once met a man who called the parklands of North Adelaide home. He had been a highly paid and well respected professional who lost his job. Subsequently his marriage broke up. Along with that he lost his home and connections to all his networks, including family. When I met him he had recently been discharged from hospital after a significantly serious operation. He required regular dressing changes and treatment post discharge. The story he told with quiet dignity was harrowing. When he was ready for discharge no-one bothered to ask who was picking him up and supporting him. So he didn’t bother to tell them there was no-one.  He took himself back to live under the trees in the parklands in winter. He lived to tell the tale. To us health care professionals as part of our training. It stopped us in our tracks I can tell you. Such a simple thing to ask – and no-one thought of it.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Wikipedia

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a passionate, minute French psychiatrist. She pioneered the way to a better understanding of grief and loss through her work with the dead and dying.  Her now famous Five Stages of Grief has been refined by David Kessler who worked with her for some time. He has this to say –

‘In our work, On Grief and Grieving Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and I wanted to revisit the stages for clarification in grief and loss. The  stages have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.’

The homeless man  described his journey, experiences and emotions as he had lived them. Listening to him I heard him as if he were describing the stages of loss and grief in a higgledy piggledy way. Which is exactly what happens. Real life does not mirror a neat step by step framework.

So just what are the Five Stages ? Here’s a brief summary of them :


A sense of being overwhelmed, of life not making sense, of numbness and shock are the usual hallmarks of this first stage.  ‘Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process.’


can be intense and directed at any and everything that could be blamed for what it is that you are experiencing. It’s important to allow yourself to experience it and work through it, for it too is healing.  ‘Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss.’


This is the domain of what if’s, if only’s and guilt. It is a time when we seek to find ways to bargain our way out of the hurt and pain. To undo what has happened, to return to a time when all was not as it is now, at the time of loss.  ‘…the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.’


A sense of surreal emptiness, a deep grief and loneliness, of feeling like everything is too much of an effort and a waste of time. These can be the signs of acute reactive depression. A response to circumstances beyond our control. It is a natural and normal thing to feel depressed when loss has been intense. As the healing process continues it will lift. If for some reason it becomes more long-term and pervasive, it may be indicative of a deeper clinical depression.


Learning to live with and realise that life has forever changed and is different is a part of this phase. Finding new ways of being in this differentness, recognising and accepting that it’s healthy and OK to move on with life is equally a component of it. Sometimes it means dealing with survivor guilt too. Especially for those who have suffered traumatic losses through war or other catastrophes. ‘Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones. As we begin to live again and enjoy our life...’


There are other frameworks for explaining stages of loss and grief that have more steps in them. For example Jenni Wright-Parker, an RN, identifies seven of them. Her work too is based on extensive experience of working with people suffering loss and grief. It seems to me an extended version of Kübler-Ross’s. There is no right or wrong. If either model helps make sense of what you are experiencing, well and good. Or a merge of both. Or another one entirely. Normalising a painful experience somehow makes it seem more manageable. It validates that what you are going through is something that happens to most people at some time or another in their lives.

This is Jenni’s model  :


    You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. 


    As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.


    Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame….  This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion. 


    Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. 


    As you start to adjust… your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly


    As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life 


    During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward. You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. 


‘Life has many ways of testing a person’s will,
either by having nothing happen at all
or by having everything happen all at once.’  
Paulo Coelho



What to do if loss comes to roost in your life:

  • Be gentle with yourself
  • Be aware that it will get better
  • Know that it will take time
  • Remember that it’s OK to cry, be angry, feel hurt…and that your feelings will yo-yo
  • Spend time with those who care for you
  • Do things that you normally enjoy
  • Talk about it as much as you need to
  • Make sure you eat and drink
  • Sleep and rest when you need to
  • Remember you are not alone
  • Remember too that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness

Life happens to all of us. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s downright hard. They are the times when we need to dig deep and find those inner reserves. BUT we don’t have to do it alone.

© Raili Tanska






34 thoughts on “Good Grief (it’s healthy)

  1. That is a great post Raili – really helpful. All of us suffer those losses in a myriad of ways. It’s how we handle them that counts – along with the support you get. I guess loss is part of life. It still hurts though.

    1. Thanks Opher. Yes, it does hurt and for too long in the west there has been a culture of denial and stoicism. Frameworks and models promote an understanding of the process that we all go through each in our own ways.

  2. There is a lot of truth to the saying that time is a great healer. I’m not sure about the best “stages of grief” framework. People are so different, it seems quite plausible to me that people find different routes to eventual acceptance.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Bun. What E K-R achieved was a demystifying and acceptance about death as a natural part of life. The west has had such a death denying culture and that is not healthy.

  3. I took a class in college on ‘Death and Dying’ based from E KR’s take on it. I think we studied from her book. The teacher was Sarah Brabant. Great class!
    And for many years especially after the death of a close friend that I was at the scene as she left this life, I can be sometimes minimally obsessed with it. I watched my mom slowly fade away in a hospital bed a year and a half later. Her death was different from my friends. I think bc it was an accident I was involved in and made it out of. And she did not. Death, all kinds, is not easy. Grief is a b****. It is a hard burden to bear. I see my aunt especially having a terrible time after her daughter took her life. Death is a mystery, an enigma; no one knows when it will come. And I find myself thinking of it entirely too much. Great post! Thank you for sharing. I will reread it.

    1. Thank you for your comment and sharing of your experiences. It is never easy to confront, especially when you are watching someone you love fade away. I had this with both my parents – the never-ending grief of dementia.And the release/relief for everyone when the end finally came. I’m happy to hear you found this helpful 🙂

  4. Thank you for this post.
    A couple of other bloggers and I have been discussing the deaths of so many of our favorites in music recently. Honestly, it seems like an unusually high number— starting with Bowie through to Prince and onward to Rod Temperton.
    Not to mention all of those in between.
    It’s amazing that we mourn our favorite artists as if they were old friends.

  5. Thank you for this great post, Raili. I know about the stages of grief, but it helps me to have a remider of what my poor daughter Laura is still going though, almost two years after the loss of her partner. Her situation is exacerbated by drug use/psychosis, and the resulting isolation from her family. She needs professional help from a grief counsellor or the like, but no counsellor will engage with someone who misuses drugs.

      1. She’s trying to get work in the charity sector at the moment. If she succeeds, which is doubtful, due to the way she looks, and her local reputation – it may be helpful to her, but it’s also possible that she’ll be unable to resist robbing the charity. She picked up an application form from Oxfam, where I work. Karen (the manager) told me how ambivalent she feels: “Should I? No – she could do too much damage. But maybe it could make that difference which changes everything for her… No – too dangerous.” She’s need constant supervision from Karen, and it would be wrong of me to advise in any way.

  6. I’m sorry for your friend but glad it inspired you to be mindful of the varied states of being where we feel loss. I bet refugees feel it keenly. I know even I did and my immigration was voluntary but imagine when it’s not? The idea of someone leaving hospital alone is awful but so common and many fear it. Necessary wisdom my friend♡♡

    1. Thank you – I have always thought that the western world is such a death denying culture. Seems to be turning around now. I don’t know what it’s like there, but here the debate is hot and raging about voluntary euthanasia. Its due to be debated yet again in our state parliament with a view to making it legal. The lobbying for it is growing stronger year by year. I remain conflicted. In some instances I can empathise with someone wanting to choose when and how to die.

      1. In theory I’m for it, in practice, not so much, as who is to say someone who does not want to care for their elderly relative couldn’t persuade someone vulnerable? and effectively they die because they are viewed an inconvenience? That would be my concern. I do believe if you are in pain and really want to die and have no chance of it really amelerating you should be able to because extreme pain is not something anyone should really be forced to live through why?

      2. Right? I mean if dementia in all forms grows as prevalent as it is, the Govern may mandate it as they could not afford to ‘care’ for those who need more than regular care? Very 1984 but not impossible, right?

      3. Exactly. I think of that Scandanavian country that euthanized a child and also people suffering from Dysthymia – not sure how I feel about that. …. as one who has had crippling depression most of her life, I’m not denying I’ve often felt it was a ‘chronic pain condition’ and I have longed for it to end. On the other side of things, I am not literally dying, I may feel I am but I’m not. so permitting someone who has a mental disease, the ‘choice’ to die, may encourage them to do it for others – as they may feel they are a burden to others. I would feel that way but for not having any ‘others’ to be a burden to, but I can relate to other clients who did feel that way and may then have chosen to die not because it was their wish but their wish to ‘spare’ others, and that seems really sad. I don’t see how that can be good, it’s a form of self-sacrifice but it is wrong-headed. It should surely be more than that …

      4. And then there are those who are suicidal…. I had not heard about the child in Scandinavia. There would have to be rigorous checks and balances in place to prevent malpractice.
        Depression can be so debilitating. I’m sorry it has been such a hard, lifelong journey for you.Yet your light shines so strongly … xxx

  7. I have to respectfully disagree with the “time heals all wounds” section. For those of us who have buried a child, that wound will never heal. There is no amount of time that can heal that wound. Just when you think that you are climbing out of the valley you take steps backwards. So to me, time is just a place holder until I can return to my child I have lost.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss. For a parent to lose a child would have to be one of the most painful losses. I can understand that having been there too. As has my sister – several times. I guess the way I think about it is that it is layers of grief that emerge to be worked through when I am ready. I wish you much love and blessings on your journey.

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