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The 5 Stages of Grief

Most people associate the stages of grief with the five stages laid out by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. These five stages include:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Kubler-Ross expressed that these stages are not experienced in any sequential order, nor are they required for processing grief. They were defined to help normalize emotions felt by people experiencing loss, not to dictate how a person should feel. While these are commonly held emotions of grievers, they are not in any way defining characteristics or phases of the grief process. Each person is unique, and the way they deal with the death of a loved one is also unique.

Grief does not have a standard, and everyone will pass through it differently. Some people may experience all five stages and more, and some may not experience any at all. However, the five stages describe extremely common sentiments of the bereaved, so understanding them may help you make some sense of your difficult period.

  1. Denial – Denial may occur as a coping mechanism to protect you and help you carry out your day to day functions. It may be accompanied by a sense of shock and disbelief at what has happened.
  2. Anger – Anger is a natural response to tragedy and loss. You may find yourself feeling angry at yourself, your loved ones, or even strangers during this time. It is an outlet for frustration and anxiety that may come up while you adjust to the changes the loss has brought upon your life.
  3. Bargaining – This stage is described as a period in which you may try to bargain with a higher power to save your loved one. You may be feeling as if something could have been done to prevent the situation, or you may wish to go back in time and do something different.
  4. Depression – Depression is characterized by feeling sad and fatigued. Your new life without your loved one may make it hard for you to be enthusiastic about the things that once brought you joy. You may become isolated and find it difficult to take care of yourself as you once did.
  5. Acceptance – this is where things start to get a little better for you. It’s the phase where you begin to accept the loss and look forward to your life again.

Remember, while it’s extremely common to experience one or more of these phases, it’s not necessary for everyone. You may experience stages of an entirely different nature, or you may find that accepting and adjusting to your new life is easy. It’s important to give yourself space to grieve and time to heal and not rush through any feelings or phases you may be undergoing. Always be patient, kind, and loving with yourself, and understand that your reaction to your grief is a personal matter. If you feel like you need help, reach out to loved ones and friends, or find a therapist or support group that specializes in processing loss. You never have to grieve alone.