Because I’ve recently been acquainted with grieving, through the recent loss of both, my father-in-law and my mother-in-law and because I am in relationships with people who are experiencing separation and divorce, I just sat in on a class about the process of grief.
The facilitator of this class, referenced the often quoted “5 Stages of Grief” by Elisabeth Kubler Ross. She, the class facilitator, pointed out that these 5 Stages; denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance are actually about the 5 (of many possible) stages of the dying. They have been adopted as the 5 stages of grief.
We have lost much of the ceremony and memorializing around death. I don’t know many who are schooled in the process of grieving. There used to be, in our culture, time set aside for the grief sufferers. We are now very quick to pull up our socks and get back to being productive. There is too little grace around this basic fact of life. It makes me feel sad. When there was someone there and now they are gone it has profound repercussions. We are now expected to deal with the absence--to live alongside a void. It is very disconcerting. Adjustment, re-alignment takes time.
Which brought me to the question, what’s the difference between grieving and depression? Grieving can lead to depression, but it doesn’t have to. They are very distinct conditions.
Grief is a natural consequence of loss, whether actual physical death, the end of a love relationship and or the absence of something expected that didn’t occur. Grief affects us physically, emotionally and mentally. It comes and goes in waves. It’s also been described as contractions. Which is the way in which the griever births a new way of being—a bit at a time. There’s no time limit on grief, but its intensity subsides, if it isn’t suppressed or denied.
Depression, on the other hand, is an overall, all pervading physical, mental and emotional heaviness with no real movement. Like a cloud that doesn’t lift. There are innumerable causes/reasons for depression.
The grief class introduced William Worden’s “4 Tasks of Mourning,” which are all about the process of grieving. In his work, Worden lists the 4 tasks as:
1) Accepting the reality of the loss. 2) Working through the pain of grief. 3) Adjusting to the new environment in which the deceased is missing. 4) Finding an enduring connection with the deceased while embarking on a new life.
Grief and Depression are opportunities to tune into the need of the body, mind and spirit. They are calling attention to self-care. To nurturing. To comfort. To realignment. These are necessary requirements of being a human experiencing loss. There is no formula for accepting what is, but that is what grief and depression are asking us to do—accept. Memorializing and honouring ceremonies for things lost are important behaviours to help one move through the processes of grief as well as depression. The ‘goal’ is not, contrary to popular behaviour, to get over grief and/or depression and get on with a productive life. We are being asked to integrate our experience with our body, mind and emotions in order to make new connections with ourselves, with others and with the new normal.