Stages of Grief
and the Grief Process

Having lost a significant person in your life you are no doubt facing a range of turbulent thoughts and feelings. You are perhaps wondering where you are up to in the stages of grief and what else may be in store for you as you travel through the grieving process.

How you are feeling, what you are thinking and how you are reacting are dependant on:

  • your personal circumstances,
  • the circumstances surrounding the death of your loved one,
  • your relationship with them,
  • your background, beliefs, life experiences as well as
  • the help and support you receive from others.

Some things you may be experiencing as part of your grieving process could be: Overwhelming sadness, anger, guilt, feeling of isolation and denial.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross worked with people in the late 1960’s who were suffering with terminal cancer. She summarised Five Stages of Grief which continue to be referred to in order for people to understand the stages of grieving and the grieving process.

The Five stages of Grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are:

  • Denial,
  • Anger,
  • Bargaining,
  • Depression and
  • Acceptance.
The Five Stages of grief have been generalised. They do not necessarily appear in a strict linear order. Nor do people necessarily go through each of the stages as labeled. Others have identified Phases of Grief These include:
  • Shock and
  • Disbelief.
Freud refers to three specific phases in the mourning process which have been identified as:
  • The loss of the loved one (or object),
  • Withdrawal of energy into the self,
  • Gradual reinvestment of the withdrawn energy into new people, objects or activities.

Each individual is unique. As are our relationships, life experiences, personal circumstances, the circumstances surrounding the death and our established coping mechanisms for dealing with such a trauma. All these aspects influence the intensity and the stages of grief we experience through our grieving process.


Denial & Shock

Denial is a psychological strategy of protection. Our minds refuse to accept what has happened in an attempt to reject the painful reality of our grief. Denial distorts reality to keep it from us and protect ourselves from feeling the pain and truth about a death, or event, that we do not want to face. Some people respond to a grief as if in shock. They may feel numb”and dazed, having difficulty experiencing emotions and/or crying.

Depression

Depression is a normal part of grief and can come at any time. It will often come after the major trauma and upheaval of the death has passed into fatigue. We now realise that it really did happen and that our loved one has died. This is also a time where some of us withdraw and get stuck in our isolation. More on depression

Withdrawal

When dealing with grief we can tend to withdraw from normal social activities and life in general. When grieving we may just want to go away and ‘lick our wounds”.

Anger & Hostility

Anger may show that we are moving out of the black hole of depression and are able to express our feelings again. There is no right or wrong with anger nor does it need to be logical. It just is.

  • Anger may be directed at the deceased for dying and leaving us. There may be things left unsaid or regrets for said and cannot be taken back.

  • Our anger may be directed at our god for being so cruel and taking our loved one.

  • Anger may be directed at others. This may be because they are alive and our loved one is not. Projecting anger onto others is also a form of denial. It is sometimes easier to blame others than it is to accept our own anger or be angry with the deceased person.

  • Anger and hostility may be directed at family for not being able to provide emotional support.

  • Anger may be directed inwards for what we feel we may have done or did not do to change the situation. We then may establish self punishing behaviours such as drug or alcohol abuse or even thoughts of self harm. It is important to find appropriate ways to release our anger.

Bargaining

Before the death we often make bargains with our god. We make all forms of promises to change, be good, help others if god will let them live. Bargaining can also be our quest for the: guru, belief system, helping methods and answers to all our problems.

Guilt

Feelings of guilt in grief are normal. We feel guilty for things we may have done or said and later wished we had not. We also feel guilt for things we feel we should have done or said and somehow didn’t. We may even feel guilt for continuing to live when our loved one has died.

Acceptance & Letting Go

Acceptance is reaching an understanding of the reality of death. We are no longer resisting the facts and our current situation. We are no longer resisting our thoughts, behaviours and emotions. We may continue to miss our loved one and be sad from time to time. However, we also now realise that they have died, that death is part of life and we now need to move on with our lives without our loved one.

Letting Go - while we may have accepted the reality of our loved ones death. We may still be holding on to yesterdays memorabilia, objects, activities, plans. Letting go will happen in its own time. You may find that you no longer need to visit the cemetery regularly, or you will no longer need to wear that particular article of clothing, light a room full of candles every evening, have photos and reminders of your loved one all through your home or arranged as a tribute. If you are doing something as part of a grieving ritual, ask yourself from time to time if you really need to continue with the ritual. You will know when you are ready to let go.


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