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  • Writer's pictureYana Bachynsky

Finding meaning after the death of a loved one.

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

In our childhood we live every day in the moment and don’t focus on the future. We enjoy picking dandelions, running after a neighborhood dog, riding a bicycle, countless hours outside with friends. Then in our teenage years, we focus on who we are and how our own self is reflected in other people. We care so much about peers and what everyone’s opinion is. Then in college, we pick a career and really for a few years believe that something will come out of it, that all the studying would not have be for nothing. I WILL BECOME SOMEONE AND LEAVE A MARK echoes in our soul. However, when a significant other dies, all the plans and dreams collapse and everything you ever strived for is gone. How do you re-build after that?

Losing a loved one unexpectedly can surely be the biggest shock in one’s life. As people say, when you lose someone to death you immediately become a member of a club that you did not join voluntarily; only the members of this club know what you are going through while those outside of it can’t fully understand it. Moreover, the club bears a lifelong membership that can never be cancelled.

Such was my own experience when I was in my 20s and lost a boyfriend whom I loved very much. Also in his 20’s, he had a heart condition and suddenly died from cardiac arrest. As a result, I went through stages of grief and experiences that transformed me forever.

The stages of grief were identified and articulated in 1969 by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying.” In it, she identified the “five stages of grief” which became a cornerstone for anyone looking for insight into what a person who is mourning goes through. I will briefly go over her five stages here.

According to Kubler-Ross, the first stage of grief is denial, which is marked by a refusal to admit that the loved one passed away. This denial explains the initial shock mourners undergo, and can sometimes even lead to a lack of emotional expression. People in denial might make use of negative coping strategies to numb their pain, such as substances abuse or other unhealthy practices.

The second stage is anger. During this stage, the person feels angry and might even blame themselves, others, or circumstances for what happened. It is very important to address this anger as it can put a strain on relationships, sometimes even leading to isolation and ruin.

The third stage is bargaining. This is when people ask themselves “what if?” and wonder whether they could have done anything differently to prevent their loved one’s death. For instance one may ask “What if I insisted that uncle exercise more? Maybe he would not have passed away…” or “If I had been more available to my grandmother, maybe she would have lived longer…” The “what-ifs” can be countless. The important first step to healing from this is to come to the realization that the death of a loved is outside of our control of the situation and there is not one thing a person could have changed to prevent the death from occurring.

In the fourth stage people experience depression, which is marked by sadness and loss of control. In this stage people can have difficulty getting up in the morning, going to work and being motivated in general. The thought of “How do I go on?” often reoccurs. Talking through this sadness and receiving validation and support is crucial in order to avoid clinical depression.

Over time, the fifth and final stage sets in: acceptance. In this stage a person recognizes what happened and learns to live with the loss. After acceptance there will still be difficult times: the anniversary of a loved one’s death, holidays and other such reminders that might lead one to go back through the stages of grief. It is important to continue communicating about feelings and to process emotions surrounding those things that remind us of a loved one. It is important to note that everyone cycles through the stages in their own way and that they do not happen in the same order for everyone; nor does everyone experience all the stages.

Beyond the “five stages of grief,” it is instrumental for a person to develop a new sense of meaning in their life and incorporate the deceased loved one into that meaning. What can be helpful is asking “How would my loved one want to be remembered?” Is there a certain ritual I can do or anything I can do to honor their memory? Artistic expression, for example, can be monumental in reincorporating meaning.

Engaging in therapy to process the stages of grief can be helpful in one’s healing journey after a loss of a loved one. If you lost a loved one and are wanting to have space to process your grief please reach out and contact me. You need not walk alone.


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