The "Automatic Phase" of the Grief Cycle


The Automatic Phase of the Grief Cycle

The stages of grief are well documented but going through them is not an easy task. It is one thing to identify the various stages but understanding them is another. For instance, the first stage of grief is shock and denial. This stage can be disorienting, and I have found that it has phases in it that are worth noting. My work as a medium has identified at least four phases in the “shock and denial” stage of grief. I will be discussing them in my next few articles. These phases include the automatic, discovery, isolation, and the numb phases.

None of the stages of grief have time limits associated with them but we can observe which phase we are in by the actions and circumstances that we are experiencing. I call the first phase of shock the “automatic or necessary phase” because it is when a crisis has come into a person’s life, there are many tasks that must be performed to assure a loved one’s final needs are met. In this phase, pre-planning protocols are enacted. If none are available, then these decisions must be made in real time. It is in this period that many people must ask for assistance from others. I am never surprised to learn that many “fences are mended” with estranged family members or friends.

In the automatic phase there are plenty of emotions but the mechanical or “housekeeping” issues of finalizing “loose ends” is the priority. Executing a will and handling material needs are handled to some degree in this phase but are often done in the next phase. Other issues are deferred to another time because they are not pressing. Sometimes there are areas in a survivor’s life that are becoming “frozen” because of the frenzy of activity.

There are many strains that a bereaved person suffers when they are dealing with the initial energy of loss. One of these strains can be the question of contacting estranged friends or family. The stress of contacting a person with whom there are unresolved issues may be too great to address during this period. When family and friends gather, they usually “play nice” during this period but mistakes that could have consequences later are often made.

I am not surprised when I learn that a person was not contacted when a close relative has passed away because of the wounds stemming from a past conflict. This causes grief for those who were not contacted because, many times, they have a sense that a major loss in their life rises above any unresolved conflict. They feel further estranged and can lose hope of any kind of future reconciliation.

Many times, there is resolution to a long-held belief that no longer has any bearing on anyone’s life. Other times, there is no resolution and one of the first areas of relief in the grief process is the end of the automatic phase. There is an odd sense of happiness that one does not have to deal with the “family” after a tragedy has been accepted and all final ceremonies are done.

The automatic phase might be called the “necessary” phase but once it is over the reality of loss starts another area that of a grieving party’s experience. The necessary phase attempts to control the chaos and disillusionment of loss. The next area appears calmer and it is the one that I call the “discovery” phase. This phase is much different from the first phase, but it can set the stage for other kinds of chaos in a person’s life. My next article will discuss this phase and the challenges it presents.


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