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5 Stages of Grief with Dr. Paul Lenderman

grief counseling
Dr. Paul Lenderman

Dr. Paul Lenderman, for the past 26 years is a Pastoral Thanatologist, Certified Grief Counselor, Music Therapist, Ordained Minister, and Certified Chaplain. He is originally from North Carolina and moved to California in 2013. He has been married to his beautiful wife for 27 years and they have 4 lovely daughters. After the tragic passing of his younger brother, Mark, Paul founded a non-profit organization called Mark Ministries. Dr. Paul facilitates multiple support groups, provides grief counseling sessions, sings for Alzheimer and dementia residents, and officiates around 120 funerals and weddings each year. He received the Above and Beyond Award in 2018, the Tauber Community Service Award in 2019, and several Guardian Angel Awards.


We are so excited to have Paul as our guest because he provided very powerful grieving sessions for Karen and her son Ian when they didn’t know where to go. Karen said, “It was so hard to lose Conner, and then I felt I was grieving for my son Ian who just lost his best friend and brother that I was so worried about Ian. Paul was the most crucial element for me to better understand how my surviving son was truly feeling.” As we all know, deep grief will either drive you forward, or take you down.


Paul goes into talking about “The five stages of Grief” which was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and became famous after she published her book “On Death and Dying” in 1969. Kübler-Ross developed her model to describe people with terminal illness facing their own death. Then translated to the 5 stages of grief. Is there 5,7 or 12?


He stays with the 5 stages of grief. There are secondary stages of grief. Many people think that you start with the first stage of grief and then gradually go through each stage of grief in order. What Paul has found through his own personal grief and through his clients is that some people may start with the first stage and then jump to the 3rd stage to the 4th stage and then back to the second.


One thing that Paul wants to make sure that people understand is that you can be in one stage today and feel completely different the next minute, hour, day or a week from now. You will experience this throughout your grieving process which may take years. Grief isn’t linear and so be patient and not expect that you will finish each stage and never revisit. Paul said, “The grief journey is so interesting and so very complicated that it takes a lot of patience and support.”


DABDA is the name for the 5 stages of grief. DABDA stands for Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.


The First Stage is Denial: When you find out the news that your loved one has passed or that you get the diagnosis that your loved one will die very soon. Your body goes into an automatic denial shift in the mind, it’s trying to tell your body that this isn’t happening, this automatic shift in the mind is a god given way to deal with the shock as a way to survive this type of traumatic information. Of course, people who lose a loved-one suddenly will go through this, but all people go through this even if they expected that the news may be the confirmation of a terminal illness.


Paul says that one is never fully ready to say goodbye to someone regardless if it was a sudden passing or slow passing, you are never really ready for that so there is this human response of “No That Can’t Be.” How do you know it was him? I mean do you have proof? I know for sure my son Ian wanted an open casket because Conner was killed suddenly and he just didn’t believe it. I actually think he didn’t believe it, even though we had Conner’s belongings until we walked up to the casket and I remember Ian saying, “That’s Conner, I know for sure because of his hands” He said, his hands because the face was Conner’s but looked like a Michael Jackson makeover.


Paul says, “Because We Still Love Our Loved One”, that this can’t be happening and the denial and shock go hand in hand when you first hear the news. I said to Paul, “I felt that I have been in this so-called “Denial / Shock” phase for the last year.” He said, “All of these phases can last for years, and he has seen clients two or three years later have days where they feel like it is a bad dream, or start to question the loved ones death all over again. Paul said, “this is where we have to be patient, we have to remember that we have gone through a life-altering experience that will never go away, we just learn to live a new life”


The second phase is Anger. Paul says that this stage he deals with often. People are angry that life has turned out differently than they have planned. The focus in on the future they will not have, and with that the feelings of jealousy, shame, guilt, resentment, fear, and the deep- rooted questions about why would this happen to me or to us? Why would God do this to me? Where do I stand in my beliefs as a person in this universe? Paul says that being mad is understandable.


Many of his clients do get mad at God even if they haven’t believed in God in the past. They are mad at the doctors for misdiagnosis, they are mad at the person driving the car who was on the phone and killed their loved one. Many will then get mad at the person who has passed.


What is usually the most common is mad at their shelf for numerous reasons with reliving the timeline and going through all of the What ifs’. Their world view about life after death has changed dramatically.


Anger is the number one grief stage that keeps people stuck…. Forgiveness is key… displaced anger. we become just mad… and then this stage leads into the next stage.


The Third Stage is Bargaining: The bargaining stage which will focus on the “If Only and the Should Haves.” If only I would have said that, or made the call or done this, or if only I knew what was going on. We then live in this stage of bargaining, going back and forth in our mind thinking how we could have prevented this, fix this or make it better.


We also call this the guilt stage as we are so mad at ourselves, we feel guilty and condemning ourselves, and this leads us to circular reasoning, as we are trying to figure it out. The guilt stage, bargaining stage and the circular reasoning is the process that we keep circling in our mind, of “What Happened”, “Why Did It Happen”, “What Could We Have Done to Stop it From Happening”.


Paul says that this circular reasoning can lead us to a very dangerous mindset, and when someone is living in this guilt -ridden life that has to be released somehow, and if you don’t have a healthier foundation or feel helpless and hopeless this can lead to deep never-ending depression.


The Forth Stage is Depression: This stage is the on-going sadness that continues on and on filled with anger, filled with guilt, involves isolation and all the types of hopeless feelings and actions. What this does is keeps us functioning daily like we normally would and we start to spiral down a dark, deeper depression with a feeling that this will always be your life. This idea that you could not have any sense of life as you once knew it, unless we find a healthy release or deal with it effectively, it continues to poison ourself, it continues to drive us downward, and it could lead to extreme anxiety, living in a fear- based life, leading to suicidal ideation, or the practice of self -harm. Paul has seen some of his clients live in depression or clinical depression for years.


Getting help through counseling either group or privately, if one needs medication then that is fine, but it is important to know that a healthier lifestyle has no side effects, but of course east meets west. Paul said, “It is so important to be in nature. Being outside, music (depending on the style of it), spiritual help, but we all have different therapies that will work. There are different types of therapies that may work for one individual but not the other. It is important to realize that this deep process is just as unique as our individual thumb prints, each grieving situation and person will need perhaps a different type of healing remedies than someone else, especially as we enter into the Acceptance stage.”


The Fifth Stage is Acceptance: The Acceptance stage is very tricky, Paul says. He said, “In his experience he doesn’t really think you will every accept the loss of your loved one. Years later, you may still ask yourself wow what happened? I think you have a place in your heart that you will never move on, you move through and learn how to have a new life.”


Paul says, “that I think a person has come to acceptance when they are able to move forward, when your able to try new things, your able to talk about your loved one, your able to share memories and really try to honor their legacy, let their energy to continue to move through you since there physically not here.

When you can start to function daily in a productive, healthy way.”


Sometimes people can get through this quicker than others and this will depend on their background, their support system, their mental health before the great trauma. It is different for everyone, and again you can fluctuate back and forth, as a therapist I try to have a person become appropriate in their grief status. I asked Paul, as we know people go through grief differently and may have different needs, what are a few things that he feels will and can help all people in grief.


Paul said, “The most important thing to understand is that you have been through a life-changing experience, everything is different now and you have to be patient with yourself and others, “Yourself Especially”. This is not a quick fix. Our generation right now wants everything to be a quick fix. We want things to be done… we want it to be over with. This is different from any other experience that you have been through. I would say, be patient with yourself, as this is a journey. And while you’re on this journey “You can’t do this by Yourself”. You must get help, you need support! Don’t try to skip around this or think it will go away. Don’t be alone… You don’t get over a loss, you move through it, one step at a time with support.


The reason why we are still grieving is because we are still loving


You loved them when they were alive,

You love them right now, and

You will always love them

Be patient with yourself

We will continue to miss them

Keep loving them, keep remembering them….

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