Just five months after the tragically sudden death of his Hollywood actress wife Brittany Murphy, 39 year old British screenwriter Simon Monjack (also known as Con-jack) was found dead by firefighters at his Los Angeles home late Sunday. Monjack was candid about his grief following Murphy’s passing in December of 2009. He described how he had lost his “best friend and soul mate” and that his “world was destroyed” after his wife’s death. How do professionals in mental health delineate the process of grieving after a loved one dies? Could the sudden death of Simon Monjack be related to the recent death of his young wife? As more details emerge of the circumstances surrounding his death, we can begin to understand the psychological process Monjack may have been experiencing at the time of his passing.
Grief and Bereavement Issues and Recovery
Grief and bereavement can significantly threaten a person’s mental functioning. Although most of us are familiar with the emotional response to loss, bereavement also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions. It is imperative that a bereaved person secure adequate support and/or professional treatment following their loss. Without it, life-threatening situations could emerge if a bereaved person remains isolated and without appropriate treatment such as grief counseling.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. (July 8, 1926 – August 24, 2004) was a Swiss-born psychiatrist and pioneer in describing bereavement. She is the author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying (1969), where she first discussed what is now known as the Kübler-Ross model. This seminal 5 stage theory continues to be widely adopted by other authors and applied to many other situations where someone suffers a loss or change in social identity.
1. Denial. When a person comes to find out about the death of loved one, their mind and body often goes into a state of shock. “This can’t be real. This isn’t happening.” are common thoughts that run through the mind of the newly bereaved. The person is flooded with sensations of disorientation, and even simple tasks seem overwhelming. Many people describe going into a dream-like state, and experience feelings of disconnection with the events and people around him.
2. Anger. As the body and mind begins to take in the loss, strong emotional feelings such as anger begin to emerge. “This is so unfair!” “How could this be happening to me?” “Who is responsible for this?” are thoughts that persist in the mind of the bereaved, as a person protests their tragic loss.
3. Bargaining. In instances when a person or loved one is facing death, they begin having thoughts of negotiation with a higher power in hopes of somehow postponing or delaying death. “Just let me see my family before I go” “If my loved one could live just a few more months, I promise to give up/change anything.”
4. Depression. As the reality of a person’s loss begins to feel more permanent, the bereaved experience commons symptoms of a major depressive episode such as weight loss, disrupted sleep, hopelessness, uncontrolled worry, frequent tearfulness and sadness or irritability. A person in this stage may refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. However, this is often when the bereaved need the most support, as remaining in this stage in isolation can lead to tragic and possibly permanent negative consequences for the life of the bereaved.
5. Acceptance. In this last stage, a bereaved person begins to come to terms with their mortality or that of their loved one. While they continue to feel sadness and loss, they are on the path to healing, and can begin to finding meaningful ways to commemorate their loved one’s life.