How do you know when you are past your grieving stage and ready to start living life again?

I had to bury to of my close friends last year. The reality of their death is sometimes hard to believe. He was my best friend of 20 years and boyfriend of 3 years...
Asked by Hailey

Hi - thank you for reaching out with your question.  I am so sorry to hear about your losses, and in such a short period of time - that must be incredibly difficult.  I am proud of you for asking for support with trying to figure things out.  Grief can be so unpredictable and this makes things difficult to figure out which stage of grief you are in, how long you will be there, and what to do now.  Let's start off with the stages of grief just as a review so you know what they are and what they may look/feel like.  These are noted by Kubler Ross, although you may find that other sources split some of these up into more detailed stages.

Stages of Grief:

  1. Denial and Shock - During this phase, you may experience numbness, questions, fear, blame.  Things may feel like you are in a movie or dream.  Depending on the circumstances, you may be confused or simply be unable to function for a period of time due to the incredible amount of shock.  It is during this phase that people lean on others in their family, friend group or community to help with things like cooking, cleaning and comfort.
  2. Anger  - During this phase, you may experience irritability, frustration, anxiety, embarrassment, uneasiness.  You may ask yourself "why" and potentially even may be angry at the person who died, someone else, or yourself.  It is during this phase that you are feeling intense emotion for many reasons.  It is difficult to be in this phase and feel your feelings without pushing others away, and it will be important to be mindful of how your anger may impact others in your life, as well as your own outlook on things.
  3. Depression and/or Detachment - During this phase, you may feel isolated and alone.  You might feel overwhelmed, have a lack of energy or feel helpless.  You may not feel like doing things you did before the death of your loved one.  It will be difficult, but very important, to stay connected to others - even when it is hard.  You are not alone in your grief, and these feelings will not last forever.
  4. Bargaining - During this phase, you may want to reach out to others to express your thoughts/feelings and to tell your story.  You may feel the need to try to figure out what you could have done differently.  You may try to make meaning out of the situation and may be challenged to do so. 
  5. Acceptance - During this phase, you may find yourself feeling okay without the person - having more of the days/weeks where you are finding that you can manage things.  It could be easy to feel guilty for this, but remember that acceptance of the person's death does not mean you did anything wrong.  It is a natural part of the grief process, and an important one.  You may find yourself finding new ways to honor the person you lost, and identifying traditions or rituals to remember them by as you move forward.  Moving forward is okay, and it will happen at your own pace, and that's okay.

The difficult thing about this process is that it is not a step-by-step model.  You may not go from steps 1-5 in order.  You may spend longer in one phase than another, and may spend a very short amount of time in another phase.  You may cycle back and it may seem that you are going backwards.  But you aren't, and this is important to remember.  When a death occurs of any kind, there is a process that our brains, emotions, thoughts and bodies go through to adjust.  There is someone important that isn't there anymore.  There are routines which they were a part of, and memories which will no longer be made.  This is hard, and unfortunately there isn't a checklist where once you go through everything you are done.  With multiple people in your life having passed away, you may find yourself in one stage of grief for your best friend, and another stage of grief for your boyfriend.  It may help to continue talking with your support system, or a professional, so that you can be sure you aren't getting stuck. 

You will find that with time and support, you will be able to handle triggers of memories of the person and the stages of grief in a much more manageable way.  You will be able to return to your life's tasks, duties, habits, relationships, etc.  The important part is that you allow yourself all the time you need in each stage, that you recognize that healing from grief is fluid, and that you continue to allow yourself to move through grief towards healing as you are able and ready.  But like a scar that has healed over, you may find from time to time that you revisit some of these stages of grief, although it won't always hurt this much and feel as strong as it does now.  

I hope this has helped, and please reach out to a professional should you feel that you are getting stuck or that your functioning is being significantly impacted (sleep, eating habits, job/school performance, desire to interact with others, etc).