Grief a Complex Process


With loss comes grief.  While the depth of the grief may vary from one person to the next, there will be grief; that is an absolute that no one can successfully argue.  The missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the way in which the authorities in Malaysia have handled the notification of families, in addition to the ongoing lack of answers, has only exacerbated the grief that families and friends of the missing are going through.

Grief has often been considered as a step-by-step process, and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross discussed the process of grieving in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.  Kubler-Ross described five different stages in the grieving process:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  Because of the way in which she described the process, people often believe that when one stage is completed, they immediately move on to the next.  In fact, a more accurate description of grief may actually be closer to a spiral, where those who deal with grief get sucked up at the very tight bottom of the funnel and may encounter the different stages time and again throughout the process of grieving.

What appears to be common, though, is no one knows quite what to say when someone experiences a significant loss.  This is the nature of humanity; what feels like a loss for one person does not have the same impact as for another.  Where one person may appreciate someone saying, “I’m sorry,” for the loss that was experienced, another may get very angry.  Whatever the case, grief is a complex process that is as unique an experience as those who go through it.

People can only guess about the extremes of emotions that those coping with the loss of flight MH370 must be feeling.  With most losses, there is a sense of closure; there is a death, or an ending of sorts.  In the case of this flight, there is nothing more than a missing plane and debris that could belong to the plane.  There have been no bodies found, and whenever there is a death in the family, humans like having a body to bury.  That’s the sense of closure, and without that particular rite of passage, there is always a sense of “what if?”

Their grieving process has only been made worse by the lack of sensitivity apparently shown by Malaysian Airlines itself.  It is fairly common knowledge that those related to the 239 aboard the missing airliner received a text prior to the press conference where Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak informed the world that the flight ended over the southern Indian Ocean.  To be informed of the finding via text rather than an attempt being made to hear a human voice on the other end of the phone is nothing short of coldhearted.  This would only exacerbate their sense of grief.

Grief is a complex process that no one person can conclusively say goes a particular way.  There are certain stages – that has been proven – but it is important to be aware that these stages can rear up and hit the grieving person at any time.  There are those who say that the grief process should take, on average, two years, and anything beyond that may be designated as “complicated grief.”  Whatever the case, it is important to recognize that the grieving process is as unique as the people experiencing the emotion themselves, and there can be no real timeline hooked into when feelings of grief may surface.  It is also important to realize that feelings of grief may flare at certain times, and that the person dealing with the emotions will be okay.  Grief is a complex process that people think simply needs to be endured and then left behind; many believe that life goes back to “normal” afterwards.  It is not the same “normal” that was known before the loss; the person dealing with the loss gets to define what the “new normal” will be.

By Christina St-Jean



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