The five stages of grief was made popular by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross In her book “On Death and Dying”, published in 1969. She presented 5 stages terminally ill persons may go through upon learning of their illness. It is now widely accepted that people can go through these stages of grief during other difficult times such as the death of a spouse, and divorce.
Over the next few posts I will describe each of these stages from both a child and adult perspective along with potentially beneficial ways to work through that particular stage. These stages are not always experienced in a systematic order and often a person can be in more than one stage at one time. For the purpose of these articles, I will treat each stage as a separate, easily identifiable step in the healing process.
Denial is not a river in Egypt-that would be the Nile River. Denial is not accepting circumstances as they really are. According to Dictionary.com, Denial is “An unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings.” Typically divorce does not happen suddenly. With a few exceptions, it tends to happen painfully over time. Everyone in the family usually knows that something is not right. Children perceive that mommy and daddy are not happy or arguing a lot.
To a certain extent, even if you have had a long drawn out break-up, most adults and children alike do not want divorce to occur. Most of us want to hang on to the glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe things can work out and the relationship can endure. These thoughts may continue to persist even after the other half has moved out of the household or even begun divorce proceedings. It is not abnormal for both parties to second guess their decision, and it is certainly normal for the children to hope and pray with all of their hearts that their parents will stay together. Denial is not believing that the relationship is really over when all circumstances point to that truth.
During this stage both adults and children tend to begin to isolate themselves from others. Denial may last a few hours, weeks or even months. Everybody grieves differently, so there are no hard and fast rules. Don’t look at your watch and give yourself five minutes to move through this stage. Talk to others, reach out and ask for help, especially in the early days of your divorce. Talk to your kids and help them to understand that this is the reality of their lives now, but they had nothing to do with your breakup.
For more information on the five stages of grief, please see Gillian Markson’s blog on this topic.