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The only constant in this universe is that things change. Small changes very rarely require us to stop, take stock and our basic assumptions about our day to day lives. Larger changes, such as losing a job, a home, a loved one, or some other fundamental support in our lives, may require us to change the way we think about ourselves in the context of our lives, and thus how we proceed from here. There are three major variants of grief, expected grief, unexpected grief and complicated grief.

When we know a change is coming, we begin to come to terms with that change prior to the actual change happening. Our process of change continues through the change, but the impact is frequently lesser than for unexpected or complex grief.


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A significant factor in the impact of the grief is how much choice we had in the change. Consider leaving a job, if you are fired unexpectedly and given four weeks notice the impact of that job loss is going to be generally greater than if you decide to resign because you have found a superior job elsewhere. The point to consider here is who has already begun to process the end of the relationship rather than who did the breaking up.

Another example of expected grief is a diagnosis of a terminal illness.

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Whether it is you or someone you love, knowing that they will die soon because of an illness gives you time to process that death prior to it. She modelled this on the work she did with people who were terminally ill. The model is useful for most variants of grief and will be discussed a bit more below. Most change is rapid and clear cut. What was is no longer, such as a job loss, moving house, end of a relationship or death of a loved one. Complicated grief can be thought of as trying to manage the change that happens in the steps between the beginning of the change and the end of the change.

Let us take a closer look at what grief is trying to do for us. Grieving is a process that transitions us from the before picture to a working model of after. Complicated grief is not a simple before and after picture.

A Lesser Grief

The change is not a clear cut difference, it is a gradual complex change that is taking time or hard to measure. There is a big difference between losing your partner to a break up or death, vs an accident that has paralysed them, or caused some kind of brain injury.

A whole bunch of assumptions need to change, but it is complex. Another example can be losing a partner slowly to Dementia, a degenerative disease that slowly erodes a persons cognitive ability. Your partner becomes less the person you fell in love with and lived with all these years and is becoming something else… where was the clear boundary? What is the new change? Complicated grief occurs when there is no clear boundary between then and now, rather it is an erosion of the old and current into some unpredictable something.

This worksheet breaks each of the stages of grief down into 3 layers. Frequently people are going through the stages of grief without realising what they are experiencing or why.

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Many people are poor at recognising what they are feeling and recognising the stage that is dominant within them at any given point in time. This section of the graphic helps an individual to recognise the most common cognitive and physical indicators for a particular stage. People can be in multiple stages at once. It is common to have aspects of all of the stages to some degree, however one or two stages will be dominant compared to the other traits. Understanding why we feel the way we do empowers us to do something with that feeling.

It reduces the fear of feeling any stage as we understand how the event that created change has affected us and how this feeling reflects the stage of change. Each stage is a phase of change from before the event of change to the new conception of the world. Fighting any stage will slow the transition down, leading to becoming stuck in an stage and not moving on. This can prolong the grieving process. While not one of the original 5 stages of change, it is often added as a prelude to the change.

Shock is the recognition of change. It often sets us back and we can demonstrate this phase by running around trying to get facts, or sitting in stunned silence. Some people process this stage very quickly, while others take quite a while. This stage can pop up as we recognise the enormity of what has changed in our lives.

Denial is a refusal to believe that the change has happened. Shock is more about being unable to cope with the enormity of change while denial is refusing to accept change that we recognise. If you find yourself stuck in this stage, it is important to review what has changed and look at some of the implications of what that change can mean. The cost of change seems too high compared to pretending the change has occurred. The less choice we had with change, the less power we have to affect the situation.

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This feeling of powerlessness and victimisation frequently triggers an anger emotion. We feel helpless that this has happened and we feel violated. Anger is the emotion that tells us that our boundaries have been crossed, that something has occurred to us and we are in a position of weakness.

We typically become aggressive to others, or to those we have lost, or we try to find someone or something to blame. We find reasons to sustain our anger. And part of what I love about music is the way it relaxes the usual need to understand. Sometimes the pleasure of an artwork comes from not knowing, not understanding, not recognizing.

Nothing befuddles our elemental need for understanding more effectively than death, the great unknown and ultimate unknowable. Lesser, who had traveled to Germany for research on a book about David Hume but had somehow found herself at the auditory oasis of the Berlin philharmonic, recounts:. As long as I was afraid to look inside the package, it maintained its terrifying hold over me: it frightened and depressed me, or would have done, if I had allowed myself to have even those feelings instead of their shadowy half-versions. But as I sat in the Berlin Philharmonic hall and listened to the choral voices singing their incomprehensible words, something warmed and softened in me.

I became, for the first time in months, able to feel strongly again. Revisiting the question of not understanding, or what Thoreau celebrated as the transcendent humility of not-knowing , she adds:.

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Later, when I looked at the words in the program, I saw that the choral voices had been singing about the triumph of God over death. This is what I mean about the importance of not understanding.


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