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Death and the loss of loved ones is a universal human experience that cannot be controlled. As humans age, the number of such losses will increase. Some factors can be associated with the normal conditions of the aging process like losing joint flexibility. Some factors could also be related to changes in everyday life like retirement and relocation. Some deaths are already expected and considered to be normal like older friends and parents. Other deaths are not expected like the death of children or grandchildren. Regardless of the type of loss, each experience can trigger the feeling of grief or better known as the process of bereavement or mourning. Mourning and grief are usually understood to have the same meaning. Grief is the result of the experience of loss. Mourning is an active and changing process. Mourning can motivate a person to incorporate the feeling of loss into his or her life. The behaviors displayed while mourning may be influenced by cultural and social norms that often dictate the way people will react to cope with loss (Ebersole et. al., 2005). People must learn to realize that there is no single way to cope with grief or react with loss. Reactions will naturally vary among different types of individuals from various cultures. Although it is acknowledged that there are certain expected behaviors when in grief, no real guidelines exist when the loss is different in nature.
Several researchers have tried to explain and understand the process of grieving. The attempts to understand have resulted in a number of different models that have been suggested to explain the grieving experience. All of the proposed models have recognized the same psychological and physical manifestations of acute grief. A middle phase affects the daily activities of the person while the ending phase involves a person who is learning to adjust to the loss and accept life in a new way. The grieving process is not a fixed or rigid process. It does not have predictable responses because these may not occur for some people (Acello 2004).
One of the theories about the grieving process is the stages of bereavement by Kubler-Ross. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross describes the stages of bereavement. She was concerned about the way Western culture alienates the death experience. According to her, death was not anymore perceived to be a normal occurrence of life. Those who were dying were left in hospitals without the comfort of their families and loved ones. Her five stages of bereavement were based from the feelings and experiences of the dying and these stages can help those in bereavement (Dyk 2008). The first stage of bereavement is initial shock and denial. People often experience a feeling of disbelief and numbness. A person may experience denial as an inital reaction to loss or death. He or she may not be able to feel anything at all. The second stage is anger. Anger is one of the most common reactions to loss. People who are bereaved often lose faith and become angry with the dead person at times because he is left alone in the world. The next stage is bargaining and guilt. People who grieve make bargains with God or even their sickness. They make promises in the hopes of being rewarded with a cure. Resorting to bargaining gives some sort of control.
Guilt feelings are also common. The reasons for the guilt may only be imaginary and irrational. A person might blame himself for the loss. The next stage is sadness and depression. Severe depression may be experienced by someone who lost a loved one. Symptoms like withdrawal, listlessness, irritability and change of habits lead to depression. After some time of going through the stages of bereavement, the individual may learn to accept the situation. The last stage is resolution and acceptance. A person has slowly recovered from the loss and somehow went back to the life that he had before the loss. The bereaved person has come to terms with his condition although he has not forgotten the death of the loved one (Humphrey & Zimpfer 1996). Memories of the dead remain and may open the wounds time has healed. The stages of bereavement may not be experienced by all. They may not be experienced in a consecutive manner.
There is no pre-determined way for applying bereavement counselling. Bereavement counsellors will have to adjust their approach for different cases. They must take into account that grieving takes time. People are expected to mourn the ones that they lost. The counsellor should also be able to prepare the person for the process that he is going through. The counsellor should brief the grieving person of possible behavior that he may display while grieving and assure him that this is only normal. A bereaved person must know he is not crazy when he behaves a certain way.
Another well-known researcher on the subject of bereavement is Colin Murray Parkes. He realized that the work of Bowlby has gained a deeper understanding of grief. Parkes was able to work with psychiatric patients when he also realized that there was little information about normal grief. He joined the research team of Bowlby sometime in 1962 and he came across widows in their homes. This helped in charting the experience of normal grief. Parkes focused on the relationship between loss and love. The relationships that matter most are relationships between a husband and wife, between children, parents and friends. These relationships are irreplaceable and unique and represent meaning in the lives of people. If loving relationships are not found, life seems to be empty (Baum 1997).
When people lose this loving bond, they suffer grief. When a person is deeply grieving, the bereaved can be difficult to console by any relationship that intends to replace the lost one. The idea of a replacement is absurd because it would seem to deny the value of the lost relationship and its uniqueness. People who engage in relationships do so early in life.
Bereavement can be a traumatic psychological experience and this is usually done in the presence of healthcare professionals. Grief and mourning can lead to bereavement. Grief is an emotion that is a result of losing someone or something. This emotion comes from a difference between a desired world and the existing world. For Colin Murray Parkes, grief is not experienced the same way. It is not a unitary feeling. The situation is aggravated because of there many situations in life that can bring a sense of loss and gain. It is difficult to evaluate the events in a person's life. Grief can be best observed in life-changing events. This can also provide some difficulties since life always changes. Humans have been found to be more adaptive to change. Many studies have suggested life-changing events as those that require people to make a different assumption of the world around them. These events have lasting impressions and usually take place in a short time. The person is not prepared for the event. These characteristics of life-changing situations can be defined as psychosocial transitions. They do not include threatening events that do not have a lasting effect on the person involved.
Gradual changes are also not included unless they have lasting implications. The death of a loved one will invalidate the assumptions that are known to the individual in his world. These assumptions affect many aspects of life. All the things and habits that the individual has known will have to be done in a different way if he or she has lost a loved one. This can be called a psychosocial transition. The changes may be easier said than done. Grief occurring after bereavement will be an aggravating experience for the individual if the person he lost is the one he talks to in times of need. This explains why psychosocial transitions are painful for an individual.