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The definition of loss can mean absolutely anything to anyone, depending on the person and their situation. However, I personally define and perceive loss as a change. Change can be healthy and indispensable. But every now and then it can hurt, and we can at times refuse to accept it. I have personally gone through a personal loss experience and it was difficult, painful and hard to acknowledge. As I now reflect on my personal loss experience, I am able to identify the variety of factors that influenced my experience of loss. In this essay, I will provide an introduction of a relevant model of loss and its definition of key terms. A brief description of my loss will be provided, including the primary and secondary losses involved. I will present a discussion of two different theories of, and approaches to loss. I will identify the similarities and contrasts between the two theoretical positions. And to conclude, I will identify and briefly explore my related cultural, spiritual, and religious rights and how these affected my personal loss experience.
The personal loss I experienced was the sudden death of my beloved cousin. My cousin, Juan, was the typical 22 year old male who was adventures, rebellious, sweet natured and the kind of guy who had dreams and aspirations for his future. But in 1998, his dreams came to an end when he was killed in a car accident, killing him instantly. His sudden death sent shock waves around my family, and that is when the gloomy clouds began to block out the sun in our lives.
With the sudden death of my cousin, there where primary and secondary factors involved that influenced my experience of loss. A primary loss is the loss of a loved one to death by any cause (Archer, 1999) .The primary loss was evidently the death of my cousin, who was killed in a sudden car accident. A secondary loss however, is the consequences of loss of a loved one, e.g., a friendship (McLeod, 1999). I experienced various secondary losses when my cousin died. The first one is the loss of a friend, not only was he my cousin but someone who I found funny and interesting. The loss of dreams for the future I had with my cousin, meaning I wanted to see him grow up and start a family. I also experience pain on special events, such as his birthday, Christmas, weddings and holidays. These days are forever difficult because his presence is not absent; therefore I have lost a sense of joy for these special occasions, predominantly his birthday.
I feel since the day of his death that his family and my family have grown apart, due to the pain, so a sense of family bonding and closeness was lost. After my cousins’ death, I started to question my religion and faith in God. I was so angry and full of hate, that I was questioning God why he took my cousin away. I could not understand why he died, and from that day I believe I lost my faith in God. As a consequence of my cousins death there is a sense of trauma in me, meaning whenever I see a truck or when I am in a car it gives me anxiety, as it reminds me of my cousins’ awful accident. Also, whenever I see or hear about a car accident it startles me and I relieve the pain of when my cousin died. As a consequence, I no longer see a car as a car or a truck as a truck; instead I see them as murderers who took my cousin’s life. These are just some of the secondary losses I experienced as a consequence of when I lost my cousin.
There is a significant model of loss that I can relate to my personal experience of when I lost my cousin. The model of loss is known as the ‘passive model of loss’. The passive model of loss was created by Kubler-Ross (1980) and it illustrates how the bereaved individual passes through a chain of phases from the primary experience of the loss, to the final resolution of grief. The stages of the model include shock and denial; separation and pain; guilt and anger; sadness; final resolution and acceptance. Kubler-Ross (1980) suggests that the person experiencing the loss is regularly in a state of shock after first hearing the news of loss and at times they may deny that the situation has occurred. The reaction of separation and pain may perhaps obviously surge as the truth of the loss is realized. The individual may also have a feeling of guilt or anger, and in time they may be reinstated with sorrow or despair. Ultimately, for most people the loss will finally be accepted or resolved.
Just like the passive model of loss, when I found out that my cousin was killed in a car accident, a tidal wave of emotions started to drown me. My first initial reaction and response was shock and denial, followed by immense pain. Over time, the pain turned into anger and slowly it transformed in to sadness and depression. For a while I was ‘stuck’ at a particular stage, that being the stage of sadness. I was overcome with depression for a period of time because the reality of situation was overwhelming. Although the sadness is still with me, I came to a sense of acceptance in the end that my cousin has died. Therefore, I was able to move on the next stage, the last stage being acceptance.
The two theories of, and approaches to loss, that I believe are relevant to me are John Bowlby’s four-phase process of grief and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of loss. Bowlby (1980) suggests that when an individual is being separated from an attachment bond figure, such as lover, pets, siblings and parents; they go through a four-phase process of grief. Bowlby includes symbolic losses as well as health, youth, roles, function, and home.
The first phase is known as Numbing. This is defined as the initial period of denial, and it can last for a small number of days to a number of weeks. The grieving individual may appear to be doing “very well” during this time because they do not grieve externally (Bowlby, 1980). In relation to my experience, this was the case when I found out that my cousin had died. I went in to a shutdown mode and I was in denial that my cousin had died.
The second phase is known as Yearning and Searching. This is when the grieving individual endeavors to recover the person or other loss object. This is recognized as “attachment behavior”. The individual in sorrow experiences anguish and anxiety as they seek contact by calling out the name of the person who has died, wearing items of clothing that belonged to the deceased and so on (Goldman , 2002). In relation to my experience, this was the case when I started wearing my cousin’s clothing and hoping that he would come back.
The third phase is known as Disorganization and Despair. This is the stage where the person in mourning acknowledges that the dead person is never coming back. Feelings of exhaustion, misery and laziness are common in the person grieving (Bowlby, 1980). In relation to my experience, this is what exactly happened. Once I was able to acknowledge that my cousin was never coming back, emotions of despair heightened and I was not motivated to do anything.
The final stage is known as Reorganization. Bowlby (1980) suggests that this is the phase when the individual establishes a new classification of self. The mourner creates new ways of thoughts, feeling, and acting. In relation to my experience, I started to question my faith in God, asking “Who am I now?” and “What do I now believe in?”. New patterns in my attitudes and actions started to alter, and I viewed life in a new perspective.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) suggests that there are five stages of loss, and that these stages are seen as the five behaviours that a mourner will demonstrate over a period of time. The five stages include Shock and denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and the fifth stage being Acceptance. The first stage is known as Shock and Denial. Shock and denial are common immediately after the individual has found out about the loss of a loved one. As mentioned in the passive model of loss, this was the behaviour I demonstrated once I found out that my cousin had died. I was in utter shock when my sister broke the news to me, and for a little while I was in denial about his death.
Stage two is known as Anger. The person in mourning will behave and express their anger in various ways. This was an obvious behaviour I demonstrated while I was in mourning. I was very angry about what had happened to my cousin and the feelings of resentment, bitterness and hostility had grown, especially towards my cousin’s friend who was the driver of the vehicle.
Stage three is known as Bargaining, and this is when the individual seeks an extension of time or at least freedom from heart-ache and pain (Kubler-Ross, 1969). Stage four is known as the Depression stage. This is when the individual goes through a deep depression, and feelings of great sadness is evident in the behaviour of the mourner or the person terminally ill. I relate very much to this stage when I lost my cousin, I got very depressed and started to withdraw from everything. I went through a phase of self reflection and sadness.
The fifth and final stage is known as Acceptance. This is when the individual in mourning may mentally admit the inevitable reality of the situation whilst at the same time remaining miserable and irritated. As I have explained before in the passive model of loss, this was the behaviour I demonstrated. Although in time I was able to accept the reality of the truth, I still however was depressed.
Studying the two theories by Bowlby and Kubler-Ross, I was able to identify similarities and contrasts between the two theories. I have found that equally the theories are in some form about a loss, and are dispensed out in various stages or phases. The two theories together look at human behaviours and actions through a particular loss, similar emotions outlined included shock, denial, acceptance and depression. Apart from the similarities, I was able to identify more differences than similarities. I feel that Bowlby focuses more on attachment theory, and looks more at symbolic losses as well as loss of youth, health, function, roles, and home. Kubler-Ross’s theory I feel is more about the descriptions of observed behaviours and emotions. I also feel that Bowlby’s theory is focusing more on the human cognitively thinking pattern, rather than the emotions in Kubler-Ross’s five stages of loss. Kubler-Ross’s theory is more about loss, while Bowlby’s theory is more about separation and attachment. Also, one theory obviously contains five stages, while the other has four stages.
My experience of loss is heavily influenced by my cultural, spiritual and religious rituals and rights. Coming from a Hispanic background, when someone dies it is the typical catholic mourning rituals that are commonly practiced worldwide e.g. the funeral, prayers and burial. However, what sets my cultural approach to loss apart from the world is that we celebrate the dead in Hispanic culture. The celebration is known as the Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos in Spanish). This commemoration of deceased family members and ancestors is celebrated on November 1st (All Saints Day in Catholicism) in countries in central and South America as well as in parts of Spain.
Hispanic day of the dead celebrations consist of visits to the grave sites of dead family members; graves are cleaned and ornamented with multicolored flowers (Gonzalez-Crussi, 1994). Surviving family members make offerings in the form of drinks, candles, food, and toys for deceased children (Amado, 1999). Offerings also are left out in the house as a way of attracting the spirits of the deceased. Celebrants also have on necklaces of shells so that they create clatter to attract the ancestors’ spirits when they dance. Above all, Dia de Muertas celebrations are somewhat jolly. This is a way for me and my family to cope and honor the souls of dead loved ones as well as continuing the very important relationships following their passing. These celebrations also give emphasis to the belief that death is not the end of life but somewhat a new beginning (Amado, 1999). Sadly, Australia this celebration is not commonly practiced among Latino-Australians, as the majority of their deceased family member’s graves are either back at South America or Spain.
In conclusion, by reflecting on my personal experience of loss I was able to identify the many factors that influenced my experience. This was achieved by recognizing the primary and secondary losses; analyzing and relating Bowlby’s and Kubler-Ross’s theories to my loss experience; and integrating the passive model of loss to my loss. Furthermore, by exploring my cultural, spiritual and religious rituals, I was able to see how these aspects influenced my experience of loss. On the whole, I consider that loss can either be a positive or negative change, and that it can be experienced by an individual in various manners.
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