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So many of the people that I see ask me if how they are feeling is normal. Our society has taught us that there is a right way to grieve and that you can get 'stuck' in stages. I always tell them there is no right or wrong way to grieve and that whatever they are experiencing is the right way for them at this point in time. 

Much of Western society's beliefs about grief have been formed by the theories of Freud and of Kübler-Ross. Freud believed that the survivor had to 'let go' of the deceased in order to heal. It was considered important to 'move on' and get back to normal life as quickly as possible. This should be accomplished within a relatively short period of time. However, when Freud's own daughter died, he admitted privately that he was still mourning for her 30 years after her death. Even he was unable to completely 'move on'.

In the 1960s Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed that there were five distinct stages to grief  - (1) shock and denial, (2) anger and guilt, (3) bargaining, (4) depression and (5) acceptanceKübler-Ross based her influential theory on her work with terminally ill people who were facing their own deaths. It was thought to also apply to the bereaved, although there is little evidence that it does. Others built on her theory, incorporating other stages or stating that progress is not linear through the stages but rather that different stages can occur at any time. The general belief is that you can get stuck in a particular stage and that stops you from 'moving on'. Stage theories of grief can mean that mourners feel judged if they haven't reached the 'appropriate' stage within a certain time frame. They hinder, rather than help, healing. 

Thankfully, these theories are now being discarded and it is being recognized that grief is a very individual process and that feeling connected with the deceased (if that's right for you) can help us to heal and find a new normal.


While most people won't need professional help, there are factors which can complicate the grieving process. For example, if the death was a child, a suicide or violent or if the body was never recovered, then survivors may benefit from talking to a counsellor. 

Personally, I still keep a lit candle and fresh flowers next to a photo of my son. It has been seven months since he took his own life. As he followed Buddhism, the table also includes a small Buddha, his Tibetan singing bowl as well as his kayaking medals. In some Buddhist traditions, when the death is a suicide, a shrine must be kept for 12 months after. I do this to honour my son and his beliefs. But as I light the candle in the morning or blow it out in the evening, I talk to him. I like to think he hears me and knows he is loved. 



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