Grief and mourning is a perfectly normal response to the loss of a close friend, relative or loved one. It is a universal concept embraced by people of all ages and cultures. Of course, each person has their own way of dealing with loss and the stages of grieving do not follow a fixed structure.
Today it is common knowledge that most people go through five different stages of grieving: Denial & Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. This concept of having five defined stages was first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
While the stages of grieving have gone through revisions since their initial conception, the key concepts are still a reliable way to break down the kinds of emotions people feel when they experience loss. Keep in mind there is no organised progression from one stage to the next and some people may not even go through all of them.
It is entirely up to the person to shape the journey as they see fit.
Let’s take a closer look at each stage of grieving to find out exactly what they mean.
1. Denial and Isolation
Denial is often the first stage of grief. At its most basic form, it means to deny the reality of the situation and look for ways to escape the truth. According to famed psychoanalyst Anna Freud (1936) denial is ‘blocking external events from awareness’ and helps a person simply refuse the experience.
This may sound counterintuitive, but it does help people cope and survive in times of crisis. Of course, trying to disregard reality does not last for long. Over time you will start to process the events that have occurred and begin to feel more grounded, a bit stronger and willing to move on.
Once reality kicks in the feelings of pain and loss start to come back. Often your mind will look for other ways to cope and anger is one way it will try to do this.
People express anger in different ways and it depends on the intensity of the emotions you are feeling. You may find yourself getting angry throughout the day for seemingly no reason or get frustrated at the most minor or insignificant things. Sometimes the anger is directed at yourself, the person who recently lost, or even complete strangers.
Being in a constant state of anger is not an ideal place to be. However, it is the first stage in grieving where you begin to search for reason and structure.
In the most desperate of times, it is normal to feel like you would do anything to make the pain go away.
During this time you may find yourself pondering over the situation and thinking about how things could be different. You may ask yourself, “What if I had done more to help?” or “If only I didn’t do this…” as a means to search for answers in an endless sea of confusion. You may also try to reach out to God or a higher power to find a resolution that will bring you peace.
Keep in mind that looking back over past events can bring up intense emotions. If you have regret about dealings from the past, you may experience an overlap of anger and frustration.
Over time you will start to think less about the past and focus on the present. You may still not be ready to accept the circumstances and this can lead to feelings of isolation, helplessness and despair.
At this stage of grieving you may find yourself asking, “Why bother? What is the point in going on?” These are perfectly normal responses to a life-changing event and it is not an emotional state that can be simply ‘fixed.’ Depression is a complicated issue and it may take several weeks, months, or over a year of guidance to overcome it.
Grief is complicated and for some people they never fully ‘accept’ the loss they have endured. It is important to remember that acceptance does not mean you have ‘overcome’ the feelings of grief. You can still accept that someone is no longer in your life but still feel sad, angry and resentful about the situation.
However, reaching a certain level of acceptance is a positive step forward. As it signals you have come to terms with the events that have occurred and accepted the fact that this ‘new reality’ is the one you will live in. Sure, you still need time to adjust to this new world and try to move forward – but overall you are able to move on from the past.
It will take time to get back into the full swing of your daily life. You may struggle to connect with new people and go about your daily routine the same way you once did. But as you let each stage of grieving run their natural course, you may find that each day gets a little bit easier and you can begin to see hope in the next chapter of your life.