Understanding the stages of grief

Published: 11/10/2022

Nothing can quite prepare you for grief. One thing is for certain - the only way to get through grief is to acknowledge it.

Grief can often make you feel like you're going crazy and it's comforting to know if that is a normal response. Grief causes a pain that feels like no other and that it will never end. This can leave us feeling alone and that no one could possibly understand our sadness or pain. This often sees us searching for ways which can miraculously make us feel better.

Grief theories, in their many forms, are the academic answer to these questions. They help to give some direction to the grief process and can help offer a balance in logical explanation and reason.

Grief is the process that allows us to let go of that which was and be ready for that which is to come." - Therese A. Rando

The purpose of grief helps us to move forward - not to be mistaken with, move on. There are various models of grief that provide us with an insight into what to expect, but one of the main ones which we will explore today is: The 5 Stages of Grief.

First developed by Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s, she used the 5 stages of grief to describe how she saw her patients who were dealing with their own terminal diagnosis. Today these stages are acknowledged as common feelings anyone has when grieving a loss, in particular the death of a loved one.

What are the 5 stages of grief?

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

It's important to understand that The 5 Stages of Grief isn't a listicle one that can be ticked off as you go. It happens next to and mixed in with all of these other emotions and is more like a guide to help you understand what emotions you may encounter. You might only experience 2 or 3 stages and in different orders for grief is as individual as a thumbprint.

Denial

When loss first happens, many of us will refuse to believe the loss is real. The stage can leave us feeling shocked, numb and confused and some people might even carry on as if nothing has happened. Even though we know in our right mind that the person we love has died, it still can be too painful to think that they are never coming back. Denial is also the brain's way of protecting itself from difficult news, allowing it to have more time to process the magnitude of the loss.

Anger

Anger might present itself following our acceptance that the loss did happen. It is a difficult emotion to deal with and the way one expresses anger might come easily to some and toward anyone or anything. Others might instead go inwards with their anger and bottle it up. Inward anger can also feel like guilt, guilt that we could have changed fate somehow. Unpleasant as it is, as long as we aren't hurting ourselves or others, anger is a normal response that is an important part of the grieving process.

Bargaining

It is in the bargaining stage that we just want the life that once was back again. It is sometimes described as a way of keeping us focused on the past so we don't have to deal with the present. It's often said that people attempt to strike a deal with a higher life-force or with ourselves to help cope with the pain. Guilt might also rear its head in this stage too, for we might search for things that we could have done differently or in the case of a terminal illness for example, picked up earlier.

Depression

Depression will come to us all when deep sadness sets in. When we realise the loss of our loved one is final and our life will never again be the same. Intense feelings of emptiness will be felt in our heart and negative thoughts might overcome you. Everything hurts and it might be too much to even get out of bed some days. These are all normal feelings from depression and it's important to understand this is not a sign of a mental disorder - it is our bodies natural response to grief. Feeling depression in a way, is the only way to get out of it. Be patient and kind to yourself.

"Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire, and sit with it, without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore your loss in its entirety." - Kubler-Ross

Acceptance

Depression leads us to acceptance, not to be mistaken with cured. We understand and accept whatever has happened has happened and that we can't change it. It doesn't mean one feels good about it either, but rather are in a state of mind that they are ready to try and move forward. The loss of our loved one will forever change us, but it's in our acceptance that we realise the importance of trying to accommodate the change into our new world without them.

We hope that after understanding the 5 stages of grief you feel reassured that you are not alone - that grief comes to us all and if we choose to, there are plenty of experienced people who we can turn to for guidance in our own times of grief.

We will leave you with a fitting quote from Nora McInerny's TED Talk: We don't "move on" from grief. We move forward with it.

"What can we do other than try to remind one another that some things can't be fixed, and not all wounds are meant to heal? We need each other to remember, to help each other remember, that grief is this multitasking emotion. That you can and will be sad, and happy; you'll be grieving, and able to love in the same year or week, the same breath. We need to remember that a grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again. If they're lucky, they'll even find love again. But yes, absolutely, they're going to move forward. But that doesn't mean that they've moved on."

By Kirsten Jakubenko

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