There is a psychologist that once worked with people who were terminally ill and would eventually die. She developed a five stage cycle of grief that we call the Kübler-Ross model. As I said there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think that this is one of the best models developed about grief because it really explains what we experience during our season of grief. These stages can present in our minds in any order and we may vacillate back and forth between two of them before we finally come to the complete end of our grief. This process is not quick and often takes years to go through. And grief is rather sneaky too. We can be going along thinking that we have completed the process and have accepted what has happened to us and years later some type of situation triggers our grief once again. It is part of life to grieve and it is part of a healthy life to go through these stages. Also we need to recognize that the cycles of grief are not limited to just the death of someone. We go through some pretty tough things in life, some of us more than others. Imagine if you have been in a situation where your life is threatened by someone you love and trusted. You will grieve that they intentionally tried to harm you and will go through all these stages. A person who has been raped needs to grieve this harmful situation and accept that it happened. A spouse who has been cheated on and discovers the cheating needs to work through these cycles of grief to get to the final acceptance. A child who murders someone leaves parents grieving and they go through the cycles of grief as do the family of the deceased. These are just a few of the situations that need to be grieved.
To help us understand these cycles I am going to use a hypothetical situation that needs to be grieved. She was young and she fell in love with a man whom she thought loved her also. As the children began to be added to the family he encouraged her to stay at home and raise their family. He encouraged her to make her social circle into just one or two family members since he always disapproved of any friends she made. He moves her away from her security center of family and friends. He never tells her she is pretty unless she pulls the words out of him. He spies on here when she is away from the home. He demands her full attention while he is home. He never wants her to meet his coworkers or friends. If she defies him he uses emotional blackmail or physical abuse to bring her back to where he wants her to be. She stays home and does all she can to see that her family is well cared for and keeps the home a safe haven for them. Because of his job there are weeks and months where the husband is away from the family and he stays connected into what she is doing but tells her little of what he is doing. She believes that he is honest and caring and denies some inconsistencies in his life story. After all her life is busy and any inkling of wrong doing is dismissed as silly in her mind. One day she catches him having an affair and now he wants a divorce. She grieves.
Denial: Oh, he could never cheat on me because he is such a good person. No, he would never do that so it must be that he is a victim of that vamp of a woman! He will return to his senses soon and we will put this behind us and life will continue as it was before. I am sure that he loves me as much as I love him and he loves our family and would never want our family to break apart. He would never have an affair, no; I must have misread the situation.
Anger: How could he do this to me? How could he have sex with that woman! How could he hurt our children and our parents and our siblings, our family! How could he????? I just want to hurt him as much as he is hurting me and our families. I am so angry with him! I am so angry at her!! I will get even, I will! I won’t let him get away with it, never!!!
Bargaining: Okay, if I just conform to his ideal woman then he will not need to look elsewhere. I have let myself go and need to lose a few pounds, I need to wear make-up more and hide some of my age spots. I will buy some new clothes and I will show him that I am worthy of his love once more. It will all work out! Right? I just need to change me because I am such a boring housewife. He really had no choice but to get my attention by doing such a hurtful thing as adultery. Yeah, I can do better; just give me one more chance.
Depression: What is wrong with me? Why did he leave me? Why are we divorcing? I am no good. He is right, I won’t remarry because no man would ever have me because I am no good, not beautiful enough, not smart, not as good as I think, and I am nothing without him. I just don’t care to go on in my life. I want to sleep until this nightmare is over. I want to just sit here in my pajamas and eat chocolate ice cream. I don’t want to talk to my friends or family, I just want to be alone. I’m no good anyway.
Acceptance: I still can’t really believe that my marriage is over and that he had an affair but it happened. I didn’t make it happen, I didn’t help it happen, and I didn’t do anything but love him and do the best I knew how to be as a wife to him. He chose to have an affair and he chose to end our lengthy marriage. He chose to remove himself from our family. He chose to stay away from our children. He chose another life and I am going to stop making excuses for him and I am going to stop hoping it isn’t true, and I am going to live my life as a growing single woman and single mother. I am worthy and will enjoy life once more.
This is a hypothetical example of how the grief cycle works but you may not grieve in the order I presented them. In my own life I have gone through the cycle something like this: denial, depression, anger, bargaining, denial, anger, depression, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance. I can be going along in life doing really well and then I run across some old family photos and boom! I am back in anger, depression, and have to work through them to get back to acceptance. You may go through these as well and there is nothing wrong with that and don’t let people tell you that there is something wrong while you grieve. It may take years, and that is alright too. But each time you get thrown back into the cycle of grief the cycle won’t be as long as it was the first time you went through all five steps. You may resolve your grief in hours rather than in days, weeks or years. God set forth some scriptures that really helped me to get through this cycle and I want to leave you with them.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6, (New International Version or NIV).
“This, then, is how you should pray: “ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:9-15, (NIV).
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32, (NIV).
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9-21, (NIV).
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9, (NIV).