As we’ve said, everyone grieves in their own, personal, and unique way. There also are some things common to just about everyone in grieves.
With these two things in mind, Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with what’s known as The 5 Stages of Grief™:
Again, it is extremely important to remember that everyone grieves differently. Some individuals may not experience all or any of these stages. Others may experience all or a few of these stages. Grief and its stages are completely individual and unique.
The early grief stage of denial can help you survive your loss. During this stage, you may feel completely overwhelmed with denial about what has happened. You may feel in shock. There is no meaning. Things do not make sense. You may feel numb. You may cling to the hope that the news of your loved one is wrong.
Denial can help you withstand the initial moments of disbelief and shock. In general, our minds only allow us to process as much as we can manage. Denial is a helper because it paces your feelings of
grief. So, rather than becoming fully overwhelmed and debilitated
with grief, you may deny its occurrence, thereby delaying its
complete impact on you.
As you begin to ask questions and accept the reality of your loss,
you begin to heal. When this happens, you begin to experience the feelings you initially suppressed.
Anger is a stage of grief that allows for continued healing. By feeling anger, you begin to get to the underlying emotions of pain and hurt. You may be in so much pain that anger helps to insulate you from feeling all of it at once.
You may lash out at life, at others, at God. Your anger may have no limits. During this stage, many questions may arise. Most notably, you might scream out, “Why?! Why did this happen?” and “This just does not make sense!” and “Why did God allow this to happen?”
You may be filled with so much fury that you simply don’t know what to do with it. Your anger is covering your pain. And instead of unveiling your true feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, and inconsolable hurt, you demonstrate strength in anger.
You have been wronged and abandoned and everyone will know about it. So, instead of focusing on the hurt associated with the loss, you focus on the anger. This anger is a bridge to healing. It is an indication of the depth of love that you have for the person you lost. To get to your deeper feelings of hurt, however, you must cross the bridge of anger. Again, it is a process that takes time.
During grief, you may find yourself bargaining with God to bring your loved one back. It’s normal to continuously ruminate in a state of bargaining like this: “I will do anything if I can have them back.” “Please God – I will always treat everyone with love and kindness if You bring them back.” “I will do anything. Just please, please bring them back. Please!”
Like many people, you, too, may get caught up in “if/then” statements, pleading to God for change: “God, if you bring them back then I will …” If you do this, it’s because you so deeply want to go back in time and change the events.
You also can find yourself immersed in bargaining thoughts and please. Oftentimes, the bargaining statements and thoughts are
joined with feelings of guilt and self-blame. You blame yourself and feel guilty for what’s happened. So, you continue to put the past on repeat, going over and over it in your mind, continuously thinking about how you could have acted, behaved, or done something differently. You may even find fault in yourself, which leads to self-anger, which tends to cover the hurt and pain. This type of thinking also is a natural part of the grieving process.
Another stage of grief happens when you shift your focus into the present moment. You find that your grief is deeply entrenched in intense sadness and depression. You become consumed with the emotional hurt associated with this loss.
The depression is all-consuming, and you may feel like it will never end. The intense sadness is joined by a desire to withdraw and isolate from everything and everyone.
It’s important to understand that this is a natural and appropriate response to experiencing loss. It does not mean that you have a mental illness or dysfunction. It simply means that you are actively grieving.
Depression is a natural reaction to losing a loved one and it is an essential step along the grieving journey. With it, you are struggling to process what has happened and to understand how you will survive this loss. Grieving takes time and you may find yourself moving from one stage of grief to another on a minute-to-minute or hour-to-hour basis. Again, it is a process so give yourself the time you need.
This stage is a little confusing and tricky for most people. You may
think that acceptance refers to becoming “okay” with the loss of your loved one. This is not the case.
You, like most people, may never feel “all right” about what has happened. Instead, the stage of acceptance is about accepting reality as reality.
Your loved one is no longer physically present with you. You may never fully like this reality, but eventually learn to accept this new reality as it is. This is a new norm in which you learn to live.
At the beginning of acceptance, you may try to maintain life as it was before the loss of your loved one. However, over time, you begin to readjust, restructure, and reorganize your life.
As you slowly change, you begin to live again. You start to enjoy life and the people around you. When this happens, however, you may feel guilty and conflicted about experiencing joy. You may feel as if you are betraying your loved one. This is common.
Remember, you are in a process of understanding that even though you’ve lost someone you love, you can still grow, change, and begin living once again. You can reach out, form new relationships, develop new bonds, and connect with important others in your lives. You have accepted what has happened. You have accepted where you are and how you feel. And you have allowed the grieving process to take place.
Coping with your loss and your grief is important to your overall mental and emotional well-being. Here are some strategies you can use to help yourself effectively cope with the pain and grief you are feeling.