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Grief is something that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Yet, even though grief is a common emotion when it’s your time to grieve, you may feel lost and confused. It can help to know the five stages of grief so that you can better understand that your feelings and emotions are normal and that grief is a process that will take time to work through. There is no real average time for how long the grieving process takes, as it is such an individual experience that is dependent on your relationship with the deceased, among a wide array of other variables that may affect the process. However, know that you will get through it and be a stronger person for it. Learn more about how to deal with loss or find a counselor on a service such as Talkspace who can aid you in working through your loss.
5 Stages of Grief: Overview
Merriam-Webster defines grief as “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” or “a cause of such suffering.” There are generally considered to be five stages of grief. The five stages are:
The five stages of grief were coined by the famous psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying. Kubler-Ross noticed that there wasn’t a lot of instruction in medical schools on death and dying, even though doctors are surrounded by it every day. Kubler-Ross decided to closely examine death and those who faced it. Eventually, this led to seminars, patient interviews, and more research. All of this research and experience became the foundation of her book, where she outlines each stage in great detail.
One thing that Kubler-Ross actually regretted was the way she presented grief as five linear stages. Kubler-Ross has clarified that grief does not occur in a linear pattern, and you may experience these stages in different orders. It’s also common to progress to one stage and then go back and revisit another. Another psychiatrist, David Kessler, later proposed a 6th stage for grief. He believes that the 6th stage of grief is meaning. During this stage, you find meaning in all that you’ve been through.
The Five Stages of Grief
Denial is the first stage of grief, and many people find that it helps them minimize the pain of their loss. In this stage, one is in a state of denial and shock, and the world appears to be meaningless and nonsensical. During this stage, it’s common to ask yourself if you can go on and what that would even look like. It can be incredibly hard to come to terms with the fact that you’ve just lost an important person in your life, especially when you may have spoken to them just recently.
While outsides may view your denial as concerning, denial actually helps people cope with their loss. It makes survival possible. Someone who is in the denial stage might believe that the news of a lost loved one is incorrect. For example, they may think the hospital made a mistake with who they called or that the body was misidentified.
Anger is often viewed as a negative emotion that we should always try to suppress. However, anger is a necessary part of the healing process. When you’re in this stage of grief, you’re trying to adjust to a new reality without your loved one. There is so much emotional discomfort to wade through in this stage that anger may feel like the best emotional outlet. Don’t be afraid to feel anger about your loss, as this is the only way it’ll ever dissipate.
The downside of feeling anger is that it can often leave you feeling isolated. It can also cause others to perceive you as unapproachable. Sometimes, you may even direct your anger toward someone who hasn’t done anything to wrong you. It’s important to understand that all of this is normal and that the anger you unleashed toward someone can actually serve as a bridge for you to connect with that person.
When coping with a loss, it’s common to feel so desperate that you’ll do almost anything to minimize the pain. Bargaining often occurs before the loss even hits. For example, you may think to yourself, “Please God, I’ll never argue with my wife again if her life is spared”. Or, you may think to yourself, “I promise to be a better person if you let this person live”. After a loss, bargaining typically takes the form of a temporary truce. For example, you may think, “If I promise to devote the rest of my life to helping others, can I wake up tomorrow and realize this was all a bad dream?” These “what if” ideas can go on and on, as they help us deal with the guilt that is commonly associated with loss.
During the grief process, there will come a time when your imagination starts to calm down and the reality of the situation starts to hit you. When bargaining, denial, and anger no longer feel like an option, the abundant loss of your loved one will start to hit you. During this stage, the grief will enter you on a deeper level, and it may seem like these feelings of sadness will never go away. Typically, you’ll feel the urge to withdraw from your life during this stage. You may begin canceling plans with others and spending a lot of time in bed. While this may seem like an unproductive way to handle your loss to the outside world, this is a necessary stage if you want to heal.
The last stage of the grieving process is acceptance. During this stage, the loss is still very real, however, you may no longer feel the deep pain of that loss. When you come to a place of acceptance, you’re no longer resisting the reality of your situation. And, you’re no longer struggling with the desire to go back in time and change something.
Now that you know about the 5 stages of grief, you should be better able to understand and process your emotions. To allow yourself the proper time to grieve, we suggest taking care of all of your arrangements for loved ones well in advance. Check out our funeral planner to get guidance on for your particular situation and remember that there are others around you who are also grieving and you can lean on them for support, just as you should be there for them when they need help. The grieving process can be difficult and may be long, but everyone goes through it and things do get better.
Obitia also offers several books on loss and grieving through our marketplace as well as the selection below.