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You will frequently encounter people who are in mourning. It can occur after many events such as loss of a loved one, including pets, relationship breakup, job loss, loss of physical or mental ability due to accident or illness, and many other situations. As a professional it is important to understand that behavior by clients in mourning may be surprising. It is important to not take it personally.

The five stages of mourning are:

1. Denial and Isolation: The first reaction is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.

2. Anger: As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.

3. Bargaining: The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. If only ...... Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.

4. Depression: Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a hug.

5. Acceptance: Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. The end may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.

By fully understanding these stages you will be better equipped to give people the emotional support and space to go through their process. It is not appropriate to counsel your clients. It is appropriate to respect their process and let them know that you care.

Remember, it is impossible to understand how they feel, even if you have been through a similar situation. The mourning process is based on the sum total of that person's life experience so unless you have had an identical life, which is highly unlikely, you cannot possibly know how they feel. However, you can let them know that you are comfortable with anything they would like to express.

By being 100% present for them during their time of crisis, you will make a tremendous contribution to their healing process. This level of compassion will generate good will and future success as well as a great feeling of having done something worthwhile.


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