Coping with Grief

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This is not an instruction manual on how to cope with losing someone you love. This is my personal experience and how I dealt with it. 

By sharing this, I hope that people who are going through a similar situation can have something to read and relate with. In addition, I hope this may help my colleagues interact with patients who are going through their grieving stages.

Many are aware of the Kübler-Ross model of grieving. The model was first introduced by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, and was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. According to the model, the five stages of grief in terminal illness are chronological, as follows: 

  1. Denial 

  2. Anger

  3. Bargaining 

  4. Depression

  5. Acceptance 

When I lost my father at the age of 54 from a stroke that could have been treated, there was a time when I blamed myself. But I knew better; I knew that there were things that were out of my control, and nothing I could have done would have prevented them. It’s hard, and sometimes impossible, however, to believe that and remind yourself of those truths during tough emotional stages. What I did was keep on moving.

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I did not try to fight my feelings of sadness, I let it happen. 

I did not blame anyone. I understood that this was the law of nature. Even the infamous King Qin Shi Huang — who enslaved millions to build the Great Wall, and many more to find the elixir of life — still passed away. 

In my religion (Buddhism) there is a belief of the afterlife and reincarnation. During my time of grief, my religion was my greatest tool. My family and friends were also a major help. I spent more time with them than normal. 

The Kübler-Ross model did not relate to me.  

I did not go through the stages in that specific order. I did not go through denial. I believe that we all deal with grief in our own way and, deep down, we know what to do. I accepted my father’s death first before going through a phase of sadness and depression. I feel it is normal for anyone to be sad or depressed after losing someone close.  

For me, it took a year to not be sad any longer. For some, it may take longer or shorter than a year. There is no right or wrong amount of time. There is no time limit. 

You may be happy one day and sad the next. It is okay to go through these cycles of emotion during grief. The best thing I did was keep on living normally. I do not believe that my father wanted me to be sad. He would have wanted me to keep on going. He would have wanted me to be the best version of myself.

The worst thing that happened to me during my time of grieving was receiving unwanted advice. I think it is best to just be there physically for the person; sometimes you do not even need to say anything. 

The best thing that happened was when someone would ask me about my father and the time I spent with him.

For my colleagues, who are helping patients move forward through grief, I encourage you to meet your patients where they are. 

Let them decide when and how to grieve, and to be supportive along the way.

Cuong Vien

Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Cuong Vien