The city i live in, Bangalore, may well be the suicide capital of the world.
Years ago, i read that countries like Finland had a high suicide rate because of the cold, darkness and alcoholism. Bangalore by contrast, is sunny, hi-tech and full of young people. India, as a country, has one of the largest proportion of young people. Bangalore, within India, is a city teeming with young techies. Yet, it has a high percentage of suicidal deaths, especially among the youth.
The grief that follows a suicide, any death, or any loss for that matter, is the greatest pain one can possibly experience. The emotional pain of grief is as unbearable as any physical pain can be. Physical pain can at least be taken care of by aspirin or paracetamol, but medical science hasn’t come up with drug based solutions for grief.
Kubler-Ross defined the process of grief better than anyone else. One goes through
- Denial: This is not happening to me.
- Anger: Why me?
- Bargaining: Oh, Lord, give me some time (if the loss hasn’t happened yet)
- Depression: What’s there to live for, and finally
- Acceptance: Everyone i know has had this problem. Let me work through this.
It may not be necessarily in this order and one may not go through all of these and one may coalesce into another. There would be cultural differences as well. Many techniques including counseling, coaching, visualization and such others can significantly help in accelerating the process from Denial to Acceptance.
Brilliant as the Kubler Ross grief model is, one factor i find missing based on my experience in this model is guilt. Guilt can be the foundation or the first four stages and unless one sheds guilt, it may be impossible to accept the loss.
In an earlier post, Stop Carrying Guilt, i spoke about a Taiwanese woman who recovered from her grief over her husband’s death by recognizing that she was carrying guilt and by shedding it.
Grief occurs upon loss. Death is perhaps the severest of losses. All of us are conditioned to take responsibility, in some form or another, to whatever that happens around us. When something happens, over which we have very little control, as in death, we still try to take responsibility. This causes guilt.
We feel guilty because we feel we could have done something to prevent that loss. The dead one has no concerns. That person has gone, forever. Why then do we, the ones left behind, who should actually rejoice because we are still living and are mortally afraid of dying, mourn?
I am not talking about fear of death here. We can talk about it another time. We are talking only about the grief for the dead, the mourning for the dead and the guilt we carry as if our continuing to live is the cause of their death. Older people, when they lose younger beloved ones, feel this guilt acutely. They feel depressed and wonder why they are still living when their young ones are gone.
In cultures like in India, people mourn vociferously. They beat their chests and cry out ,’ Oh, no, why have you gone. Take me also with you.’ Sometimes, i wonder what would happen if the corpse came to life and beckoned them to come along for the ride. Would they agree to go or is it part of a rite?
Death is rite of passage, and unlike others such as marriage, an inevitable one.
A mother came crying to Buddha, seeking his help to revive her dead child. Buddha looked at her compassionately and said, ‘I shall try. But, i need a spoonful of mustard seeds from any house where there has never been any death.’
The woman was excited and ran from house to house, from morning till evening, only to be told that every house she knocked on had experienced death. She returned to Buddha, free of fear and free of guilt, accepting the inevitable reality of her loss.
We mourn because we fear the inevitability of our own death. This reflects as the guilt we feel when we lose a beloved one. Unfortunately, we can neither prevent someone else’s death nor postpone our own.
Acceptance of death leads to detachment when someone dies. We do not need the five stages. We can reach the final stage of acceptance directly.
Any coaching on grief, if it is to move beyond platitudes, needs to address the issue of guilt.