by David Daniels, M.D. –
Destructive myths abound concerning the loss and grief process. First, contrary to some views, there is no one “right” way to die or grieve; our personality type makes a difference. Some of us go in peace and some screaming.
Many people don’t go through all the steps in the dying process outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (On Death and Dying) or in the order she states. She lists in order: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance/resignation. By bargaining, she means asking for a favor or another chance, often based on the promise of good behavior. Depression is not inevitable, and some people don’t feel angry.
With loving care and the receptive awareness and acceptance that goes with presence, many people realize that life is each day, that wholeness is the goal, not postponing death. We can heal the heart while the body is dying.
There are myths about the grieving process as well. The main ones are that grief is an illness, something to get better from, and that you grieve first and then come back to live life as though grief and life are linear processes.
In truth, grief is a natural process. It lets us know that we care/love. The natural sadness of grief often comes in waves, unexpectedly. Trying not to grieve often causes persistent distress and even depression.
The natural process involves leaning into pain, not away from it and releasing through the pain into love and life in each moment. Life and grief go hand in hand in a natural co-existence. These realizations, when truly lived, make both the death and grief process transformative rather than transfixing. These best or healthy principles about the dying and the grief processes have been honored in both hospice and Anamcara (soul friend) care that goes back over 1000 years.
Dr. David Daniels, MD is clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medical School, a leading developer of the Enneagram system of nine personality styles, and co-author of The Essential Enneagram (Harper Collins).