Monday, December 5, 2011

The Stages of Grief

     My adventures in Belgium has not come without a price. Although I am having the time of my life there are moments when I feel down. While I was at a Rotary meeting, before I came to Belgium, they warned me that being on exchange is not always going to be super. Many exchange students and those in a difficult situation (like those exposed to death) experience the stages of grief. I am going to describe to you what I learned from my Rotary leaders as well as my own experience of the stages of grief.
Firstly, it is important that you know what the stages of grief are. It's always convenient to know them because it may impact a family member, a close friend, or even yourself unexpectedly. They are as follows:

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' interpretation
1) Denial (this isn't happening to me)
2) Anger (why is this happening to me)
3) Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
4) Depression (I don't care anymore)
5) Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)

Dr. Roberta Temes interpretation
1) Numbness (mechanical functioning and social insulation)
2) Disorganization (intense painful feelings of loss)
3) Reorganization (re-entry into a more "normal" social life)

     People can experience these stages out of order or repeadedly but it still implies the same concepts. One also may point out that smushing the feeling of grief into catagories or binding them under percise definitions is biased because greif is ultimitly definied by the individual and the circumstance. However, I agree that these guide lines provide some insight into what peole have experienced, are experiencing, or are going to experience when it comes to grief.
     When Rotary told me the information about grief I was surprised but not completely unaquainted with the idea. After being in Belgium for 3 months I relate more to Dr. Roberta Temes interpretation of greif. Arriving in Belgium was exciting and new, just like any new toy. I couldn't speak a lot of french but I allowed myself this excuse because I didn't have much previous knowledge of the language. Life continued and I situated myself into my host familys lifestyle as best as I could. I had confidence and vigor in the beginning but I failed to realize the lengthy marathon I decided to commence. Truely, I came unprepared (language wise) but on the other hand it's almost impossible to prepare for a foreign exchange, unless you have been learning a foreign language since a very young age. One morning and many after, the realization of loss hit me, again and agian. It can be described as a sinking feeling in the gut combined with a feeling of hoplessness or loneliness. Beign a foreign exchange is easier said than done. When you go on exchange you leave your family, friends, home, activities, and more. Being constantly surrounded by unfamiliarity really makes you feel disoriented and disorganized, leaving you in a declined state. Its hard to intergrate yourself into a community that has had its own experiences without you. The people can be uninviting and reapproachable because they may not want change. Frustration may accomany you everywhere you go because when you are unfamiliar with the place or with the rules of social standards, mistakes are bound to follow you. In this situation I always tell myself that "a rolling stone gathers no mass," meaning that an ambitious person is more successful than a person not trying to achieve anything. So I set to work at being as extraverted, determined, enthusiastic, and open as possible. Even then my own ambition can fail me at times because a feeling of loss from being cut off from my original enviroment resurfeses. I have to remind myself that I chose this new life and "I'm sticking to my guns." After  studying the french language and attemting to find friendship, I am heading toward my "reorganization stage of grief." Obviously, I still cant speak fluent french but my Belgian life is settling down. I found friends who accept me, a host sister who socializes me, and an encouraging host mother who listens to me. There are days when the vicious cycle of grief sneeks up on me but I am a determined person. I definetly have a better understanding of grief now that I am in a unique situation. Listed below is some advice I came up with that really helped me with my greif and hopefully you will be more prepared when its your turn. Good luck!

Some tips to overcome the stages of grief:
1) Have a positive attitude. There is no better way to fix your problem than to help yourself.
2) Find someone who supports you. Often times feeling alone and depressed is cured when you are having a good time with a friend.
3) Make a connection. You are not alone in what you are feeling. Relating to something or someone can help you express and overcome your feeling of grief
4) Keep busy. If you have too much time on your hands then you have lots of time to think about how sad you are.
5) Do something that is familar but different. It can boost your confidence to do something you know, even in a different situation (like joining a sport). This piece of advice goes hand in hand with number 3.
6) Don't give up hope. Life is hard and you are not perfect. The feelings of grief may come back to haunt you but its not the end of the world. The real shame would be if you threw away the potential to fix the problem.

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