Grief gets a bad rap. It’s associated almost exclusively with sad and painful events, which is why people tend to avoid dealing with or discussing it.
But over the last few years, I’ve embraced the notion that grief is actually a good thing. That idea has been around since the 1950’s, when psychologist Harry Levinson observed that “all change is loss, and loss must be mourned.”
The grieving process is our hard-wired coping mechanism for understanding and adapting to nearly every change in our environment.
I’ll prove it. Pretend your wifi just went down.
You’ll experience the first 5 stages of grief in a matter of seconds:
Anger: “This wifi sucks!”
Depression: “How am I gonna get stuff done?!”
Bargaining: “Maybe I can use Starbuck’s wifi.”*
Acceptance: “Forget it, I’ll just play Wordle.”
*or “I’ll hack the neighbor’s network” if you don’t have, you know, morals
When you’re faced with an unexpected change, depending on the size and severity of it, you may progress through the stages quickly.
You may, however, need to spend extra time in a stage or repeat it a few times if the change is complex or long-lasting. Every change is different, so every grief response will be different.
Grief, therefore, is unpredictable and inconvenient, which is why it’s not always our favorite subject.
But grief is not optional.
With very rare and limited exceptions, you can’t cajole, bully, sweet talk, or force yourself to just “get over it” so you can sidestep grief.
You have to give yourself the time and space to experience every stage of it. You can’t ignore it, trounce it out of existence after you’ve pulled on your big person pants, or suck it up buttercup.
That’s not how grief works, because grief denied is only grief delayed.
And no, as good to great and highly effective as you’ve become, as atomic as your habits surely are, and as blue as your oceans may be, you are not the exception to that rule. You may be built different, but not that different, friend. You’re just as broken and messy and in need of healthy grief as everyone else.
Why do we have to go through grief? Well, the meaning of grief is … meaning.
Meaning is the sixth stage of grief, added recently to the grieving process model by the expert who literally wrote the book on the subject.
The stage of meaning is only possible after the first five have been experienced. Meaning smooths the jagged and painful edges from the phase or stage of life that just fell apart, turning them into puzzle pieces that you can reassemble in new ways.
Meaning lets us remake our world, our relationships, ourselves, and not languish in the acceptance stage while endlessly repeating “it is what it is.”
So the next time someone close to you is experiencing change, try asking them:
- What stage in the grieving process are you in right now?
- How can I help you where you are today?
- How can I help you move to the next stage?
With those three questions, you help them understand their reactions more objectively, and see them as part of the natural and necessary change management process.
It also gives them the comfort, community, and hope that will help them find the meaning on the other side.
And that, I think, is pretty good.