Grieving a Disability

Are you often sad or angry about your disability? Do you ask yourself: am I ever going to get the ability back? How am I going to adapt to this new stage in my life? And most importantly, how am I going to continue engaging in the same activities that I have already started doing? For people with disabilities, learning how to cope with the loss of an ability or acquiring a disability can be very difficult. Some find the task of learning how to cope with an inability to be so overwhelming that they give up on other aspects of their lives. However, with the help of others and a little help from yourself you can overcome the loss of an ability or the acquisition of a disability!

Of course, you will hear me state time and time again that the answers to these questions are different for everybody. How somebody answers all of these questions does not mean they are wrong, but that they have different coping mechanisms than their next door neighbor or even the person lying next to them in bed. Somebody's ability to rebound from a difficult situation has so many variables that even researchers have not discovered all of them. Resiliency is different for everybody!

However, the Five Stages of loss and grief proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross seem to hold true for the loss of a loved one AND for grieving the loss of an ability. The five stages are not meant to always be followed in order, but research has proven that this is the general order that people follow.

The five stages are 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance.

Denial:  When mourning the loss of an ability to denial sets in first. We feel that we still have the ability that we once had. Denial can often harm people with disabilities because we try to complete a task which may result in physical harm. The denial of not being able to complete a task eventually causes us to become angry.

Anger: When we try to complete the same task that we once had the ability to achieve, we generally move on to the second stage because we are angry that we cannot achieve the same result that we once had. This stage can be very difficult for many to get out of, and some people will even stay in it for their entire life. When somebody is grieving a loss, this stage can often make other people angry at the person who is grieving because the grieving person can lash out at others. Also, during this stage people will blame God which I feel could be helped by going to some pastoral or spiritual counseling.

Bargaining: After we calm down from the anger or forget about the anger, we enter the bargaining stage. During this stage we tend to say statements such as, "if only I had kept working on my abilities to stand," or "I would give up anything to have my ability to stand again."

Depression: After realizing we are not going to get the ability back, we enter the depression stage. During this stage there is a level of acceptance however the acceptance comes with sadness. I have often seen people with disabilities and even myself cycle between the bargaining stage and depression

Acceptance: As time goes on the sadness seems to lessen which makes it easier to move into the final stage of acceptance. Being in the acceptance change does not necessarily mean that you have no sadness, it means that you have a lot less sadness. Just like losing a loved one, we will miss them from time to time.

Following this sequence will not always help you completely grieve the loss of an ability or the acquisition of a disability. However, there are many things you can do on your own to help you with the grieving process. One of the best pieces of advice that I can give it is to learn where you are as a person and build your self confidence around that.

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