My heart is heavy as a rock. My eyes are filled with tears.

red sunset, 5 stages of grief

This week has brought not one but several deaths in my friends’ families. I can’t stop aching for their losses. And as I pull myself together to comfort them and offer a supporting shoulder, I realize how unfamiliar we all are with the process of grief that has swallowed us all.

This post is dedicated to everyone who has experienced a loss of any kind: loss of job or close relationship, learning of a terminal illness, death of a loved one (human or pet), and even sometimes becoming retired or “empty-nested”.

Dealing with grief is something we all go through at some point in our lives. The five stages of grief were first introduced by a Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.

Emotions are pretty universal and the following stages of mourning will apply to most. However, don’t judge if others experience grief differently from you. We are all unique and our bereavement will take different lengths in time, as well as have various levels of intensity. Some will wear all emotions on their sleeve, while others will keep everything to themselves. The stages of grief may be experienced out of order, which is mainly given as a guide to help you navigate through the overwhelming emotions.

By acknowledging our grief, taking the time to experience the emotional rollercoaster, and embracing support, we allow ourselves to mourn and eventually heal.

5 Stages of Grief

Denial and Shock

The first reaction to learning of the loss is to deny the reality. This shock is a normal defense mechanism of our body to protect the individual from the intense surge of emotions. This stage may last hours or even weeks. Not to be confused with “lack of caring”, but this shock may be useful for the grieving individual to collect self to take care of the family or make funeral arrangements, for example.

Pain and Anger

As the shock and denial wear off, the overwhelming emotions swallow us whole. The pain may seem unbearable, but it is important to experience it fully, not to hide, avoid or escape it with alcohol or any other substance.

Pain will slowly give way to anger. Anger can be directed at a live or still object. However, it is important to control this anger, as it may cause permanent damage to your relationships with others.

Guilt and Bargaining

At this stage, it is common for the grieving individual to feel guilty of doing or not doing something which could have prevented the loss. It is common to feel helpless, powerless, and abandoned. Asking the question: “Why me?”  Or even bargaining in despair with the higher power or God in attempts to regain control: “If only I had another chance…” or “I will stop drinking, if only I could have him back”. People may get stuck on this stage, but it is important to properly resolve it and not interfere with the healing process.

Depression

Just when others may start thinking it’s time to get back to reality, a feeling of loneliness and depression will overtake the grieving person. Signs of depression include sleep and appetite problems, lack of energy, and crying spells. During this time the person realizes the true magnitude of the loss. It is normal and important stage of grief, despite the opinions of others.

Acceptance and Hope

In time, as the grieving person becomes more functional day by day and begins slowly adjusting to and accepting the new reality after the loss, depression will wear off. Acceptance does not mean happiness, but it gives hope to find your way forward, start planning your life, and experience happiness in the future.

Grief Resolving Resources

  • By yourself: Allow plenty of time to experience all the feelings. Express your feelings to a trusted person, journal, or in a local bereavement groups. Crying is the best natural way to express feelings. Seek professional help if grief becomes too overwhelming.
  • With a group: Find a local GriefShare group near you with people who’ve had similar losses.
  • Read books:
    On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own FamiliesHealing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through GriefSilent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide