Working through grief is not a linear process, and everyone’s grief journey may be different. With that understood, there are 5 stages that commonly mark our progression through the grief process. Having knowledge of the characteristics of each stage can be helpful to understanding the whats and whys of your or another’s feelings, and this awareness helps normalize the need we all have to learn how to cope with loss.
1. Denial: When in denial about a loss, we try to convince ourselves that the loss did not happen, or that the loss is temporary. This could look like a child attempting to get their divorced parents back together, a person diagnosed with a terminal illness maintains that the results are wrong, someone waiting for a phone call from a loved one who has passed.
2. Anger: You may be angry with the person, place or thing that you’ve lost. Anger often masks underlying emotions associated with the loss such a guilt, shame, fear, hurt, blame, frustration and confusion. Examples of what this can look like include blaming God for letting a terminal illness happen, being easily irritated, verbal and physical aggression towards people and things.
3. Bargaining: Begin looking for ways to regain control over an event and its outcome to reclaim what was lost. A child may promise to eat all of their dinner and make good grades if their parents get back together. A husband states that if he had spent less time at work his wife would not have filed for divorce. A recently laid off worker tells herself that of she worked harder, her company would not have closed down.
4. Depression: Often described as the “quiet” stage as earlier stages are marked by behaviors that support actively avoiding the emotions triggered by the loss. Common symptoms include sadness, change in appetite, crying, change in sleep pattern, isolation, loss of concentration, irritability, loss of interest in activity you found pleasurable, and physical pain.
5. Acceptance: You have come to accept the loss and what it means for your life. It doesn’t mean that you’ve moved passed the grief and loss, and is not marked by happiness; however you are ready to start rebuilding your life. A divorcee commenting that the divorce was a healthy choice. A child reflecting on the wonderful memories that they will always have of a parent that has passed. A patient with a terminal illness deciding to use the time they have left to do things they’ve always wanted to do.
*Based on model developed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969