What are the Stages of Grief and Loss?

Grief is a natural response to the loss of a loved one. In fact, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist, introduced a popular hypothesis in 1969, defining a series of emotional stages that one goes through when dealing with grief and loss.

This hypothesis referred to as the Kübler-Ross model or the “five stages of grief”. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

These stages, however, are not linear. Thus, they can occur in any order and even tend to repeat as you flip in and out of a stage, enter another one, and then, again back to the first one.

Moreover, as different people have different coping skills, people do not necessarily experience all or even some of the stages.

In addition, apart from the emotional aspect, grief has physical, cognitive, social, behavioral, religious, and psychological dimensions, too.

The Five Stages of Grief

Denial

Denial, numbness, or shock is a natural reaction to death. It should not be mistaken for a “not caring” or “unconcerned” attitude, though.

On the contrary, it actually works as a defense mechanism and protects the bereaved from experiencing overwhelming emotions all at once.

Plus, the initial denial allows the individual to effectively plan the funeral, customs, review the paperwork involved, and handle other practical aspects following the death.

Anger

As the masking effect of shock and denial wears off, it gives way to pain guilt, and anger.

It is a common phase in which the mourner feels helpless, hopeless, and powerless. Thus, all the feelings that one had been denying during the previous stage gradually emerge.

Nevertheless, It is important for you to feel your anger, whether it is towards the doctors and hospital staff, family members, yourself (for not doing more), or God, and so on.

Though anger is often suppressed because it is a negative emotion, in actuality, there is intense pain beneath this emotion. In other words, in indicates the intensity of your love for the deceased.

Bargaining

Due to feeling of helplessness, you tend to wonder about the ”what if” and “if only” aspects in an attempt to regain control. Some people become obsessed with this bargaining in order to prevent the loss.

It is essential to deal with this stage and resolve it carefully as the intense emotions of guilt or frustration are likely to interfere with the process of healing. Basically, it is an indirect way of negotiating with the pain of the loss.

Depression

This is the most recognizable universally experienced symptom of grief. It is characterized by periods of melancholy, despair, loneliness, and emptiness. Hence, you may be inclined to isolate yourself from others.

It is during this time that you truly realize the magnitude of the loss. It is for this reason that gatherings like funerals and memorial services are organized so as to give the friends and relatives the opportunity to support and console you.

In addition, items like headstones, urns, cremation jewelry, and memorial gifts are also helpful in this regard as they allow you to honor the departed soul.

There are several memorial sites for this purpose, such as The Comfort Company , Memorials.com , Stardust Memorials , etc. You can read more about grief and depression at Psych Central.

Acceptance

Acceptance refers to the stage of accepting the reality that your loved one has physically gone and this is the permanent reality. So, it does not mean that you no longer feel the grief associated with the loss.

Nevertheless, it means that having accepted the loss, you eventually learn to live with it by re-adjusting yourself, re-assigning roles, etc.

All in all the grieving process allows you to appropriately mourn for a loss which, in turn, promotes healing.

However, at times, certain bereaved individuals can develop major depression or prolonged grief due unexpected or violet death of a loved one.

Here is an article explaining the symptoms of major depression and “complicated grief”.

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