Once master was out to beg for his meal, when he heard cries emanating from a small hut. He entered the hut to find a woman wailing. Master was informed that she had lost her 10 year old boy to influenza recently.
Touched and aggrieved, master sat with her holding her hand. Sensing Masters compassionate presence she started to wail ever louder. Master just sat there for a long time helping her cry.
Once she was exhausted and her tears ran dry, master brought some water for her and helped her wash her face. Then without offering any condolence or solace, he left.
Two of the disciples who had the duty to be with Master on his round of village that day, were surprised by his behavior. However they said nothing till their village chore was complete. Only when they were returning to the Monastery and sat beneath a tree for some rest did one of the disciples asked the master about his non-consoling the women upon her terrible loss.
Master spoke unhurriedly “I did the best I could with my presence. She was yet not ready for any words yet as she was in the first stage of her grief cycle?”
“Grief Cycle Master, what is that? “ The disciple wanted to know.
“Humans have a systematic way to process their grief” Master explained. “Upon encountering a big tragedy it takes a 5 stage cycle through which the person must pass, before she can fully integrate her loss. The first stage, in which this women was, is of shock and denial. When the loss is great, we are never able to handle it directly, so to shield ourselves, we go in its denial. Next stage in this cycle, is anger. The grief because of its searing intensity turns outwards and expresses as anger towards a, person, system or an ideology. Third stage sets in when there is a creeping acknowledgement of the loss and one starts to negotiate with contra-factual reality: what if I had taken him straight to hospital, what if the medicine was available at the local chemist shop….
In the fourth stage of mourning, depression sets in. It is when one feels the full force of overwhelming loss and goes through bouts of extreme sadness and melancholy. One is detached, isolated and feels an overall sense of disconnect with world and life all around. Once this goes on for sometime fifth stage is reached wherein acceptance of loss is initiated and connect with objective reality gets increasingly restored. Though connect is initially weak and reality is often depreciated for the loss however life’s carriage is felt again. This is the final stage of connecting with the new loss adjusted reality.
“So master how long does this generally take or how much will the women we saw, suffer?” The disciple wanted to know.
“These stages are not necessarily set in the same order, I mention them and they can often overlap. Secondly intensity of each stage and its duration can also vary according to a person’s temperament. Unfortunately there are some who never recover beyond depression stage however most people can start to feel better within 3 months to 3 years. On an average though, it takes around a year to feel better.
The processing also depends on one’s empathy circle or people who are around self to lend emotional support, especially in stages 4 and 5. More you are connected with others, faster is your grief integration” Master finished as he got up to resume his journey back to the monastery.