Recognizing The Five Stages Of Grief


Recognizing The Five Stages Of Grief

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One of the most difficult things that anyone can do is to help a person deal with the loss of a loved one. Grief can be a chameleon with many different guises, each of which requires a different type of response. Therefore, it is essential to understand the various stages of grief, as first put forward by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her seminal 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” These are guidelines which describe the grieving process, but it is important to note that everyone experiences grief differently and therefore needs personalized support.

Photo Credit: Peter Ould

Photo Credit: Peter Ould

When someone first learns that someone they cherish has died, their natural reaction is to deny that it has happened. Denial is the first stage of grief, and allows people to protect themselves from the overwhelming shock that they would otherwise feel. This is often the stage people are at when they first meet with funeral directors, such as the American Cremation & Casket Alliance. At this point, it is important not to force people to recognize the reality before they are ready, as this can make the situation unbearable for them.

Once someone understands that their loved one is dead, their next natural reaction is to look for someone to blame. Now they feel anger – the next stage of grief – which may be directed at the deceased, or the doctor who let them die. It could take the form of anger at God, or even guilt because the person blames themselves. They may even feel guilty for being angry, knowing rationally that their anger is unjustified. At this point, it is important to let the person work through their anger, to listen to them, and to be nonjudgmental.

Once the person’s anger starts to subside, they feel a need to reassert control over the situation. At this point, they start to bargain – the next stage – looking for a way of undoing what is already done. They may bargain with God, with nature, or with any other entity that they feel has the power to change things. In reality, this bargaining is another line of defense designed to protect the person from pain, although it is a much weaker one than their initial denial.

Once someone comes to the realization that they can’t change things, they then become fatalistic and depressed. This depression manifests itself primarily as sadness and regret, and is often coupled with worry – for instance, worry about the cost of the funeral. At this time, the person is actually starting to prepare themselves to say goodbye to their loved one. What they need to get through this is often a simple word of reassurance or act of kindness toward them.

Photo Credit: Top News

Photo Credit: Top News

When the person finally starts to emerge out of depression, they begin to accept the death – this is the final stage of grief. This acceptance does not mean that they are happy, but it does mean that they are beginning to become reconciled to the pain and are slowly learning to deal with it. This is the start of a long recovery which, in some cases, can take a lifetime.

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Comments (5 )

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  1. patweber says:

    Sadly I am experiencing this myself. One thing about the stages, they come and go. You can find yourself thinking or feeling, I'm past that one, then a few days later, it comes again. There is also no tidy little time frame on it: I've met people grieving (our internal way of dealing with loss) and mourning (how we show grieving externally) for two years. It is not an easy life process. Thanks Cheryl.

  2. I think one has to go through the experience to understand how hard it is. That experience also helps when a friend has suffered a loss and you have an understand of what they are going through and what they may or may not need a given time. I have had both happen in my life and the process you addressed is spot on. 🙂

  3. JeriWB says:

    It's strange too how the stages will vary in length from person to person. I've yet to figure out how my family deals with this whole process since they take a unique approach to say the least.

  4. upliftingfam says:

    Great tips, thank you for discussing a difficult topic. These stages of grief not only deal with death and dying but they can be applied to divorce, broken relationships, medical issues, bitterness, and more.

  5. yearwoodcom says:

    Death is always difficult, knowing the steps doesn't ease the process but it does give us the tools to anticipate and understand why we are feeling the way we feel. Thanks for the helpful post.