Stages of Grief- Understanding the Grief Process

Grief is universal yet everyone grieves differently and there is no correct way of grieving. However, psychologists have noticed some common stages that many people experience after a loss. Although these stages of grief have been acknowledged, people may experience the various stages of grief in any order. They may also experience the stages a varying number of times. Grief is not a linear process that can be predicted. We are all individual and therefore we experience grief in unique ways. Having said that, knowing that there are stages to grief can be comforting. The idea that others experience these stages and you are not alone can help people understand why they are feeling the way they do.

Why do we Grieve?

Grief is an emotional response to loss and can be extremely debilitating. It can sometimes even lead to mental health issues, so it is important that help is sought whenever possible. Although some people will move through the different stages of grief on their own, others may need help through therapy. It is ok to ask for help during these difficult times as the sense of loss can sometimes feel too much to bear.

It is important that you allow yourself to grieve in your own way and take your time to grieve. There is no time limit. However, remember that help is always available if you feel like your grief is having a severe impact on your life.

Here we discuss the 7-stages of grief that were initially acknowledged by Dr Kubler Ross

Stage 1: Shock

During the first stage, initially after you hear the news that a loved one has died, it is natural to feel a huge sense of shock and disbelief. This is especially true if the death was sudden and unexpected. During this stage, your body may go through a range of emotions extremely quickly and you may experience numbness, dizziness and nausea.

You may also find yourself asking questions like ‘How is this even happening?’ and ‘This can’t be true.’

Trying to come to terms that someone you love is no longer with us can be extremely difficult and can take some time. During this time, you can feel paralysed, emotionless and empty.  It is important to give yourself sufficient time to be in this stage and come to terms with the loss. Shock can actually help protect you and try to stop you becoming too overwhelmed.

Stage 2: Denial

When someone dies, it is a common response to feel denial and try to convince yourself or other people that the event hasn’t happened or hasn’t had a severe impact on you. Of course, you understand that the person has died however it can take time for the truth to truly sink in.

Some people find it therapeutic during this confusing time to start a journal as an outlet for them. A journal can help them try and express exactly how they are feeling.

Stage 3: Guilt

The third stage is guilt. It is not uncommon to be filled with a strong regret of all the things you did not have time to say to your loved one. Guilt can also lead to blaming yourself for the death, even if you know deep down it was not your fault at all. This stage can be scary and overwhelming as the pressure of blame can be overwhelming.

After the shock and denial phases have passed you may find yourself in considerable pain both emotionally and even physically. Do not hide from the pain as it is an important part of the healing process. It is also important that you do not try to numb these feelings with alcohol or other coping mechanisms as they will not help you progress through your grief if you try and hide from it.

Stage 4: Anger & Bargaining

The 4th stage involves feeling angry at yourself, others or even your loved one who has died. This stage can happen several times and can occur at any time. You can find yourself getting annoyed over minor things and take that anger out on yourself or others around you, even though you know that nobody is to blame.

During this stage, you may try to make promises in order to get your loved one back. Although the whole grief process is hard, this stage can be particularly difficult as it can lead to discussions that you know deep down are not possible and will not lead to anything. You may think things like ‘If I hadn’t have gone out, I may have found her sooner,’ or ‘I would do anything if I could just have her back.’ Ultimately you know that these statements will not change anything.

Stage 5: Depression, Loneliness and Reflection

This stage can bring a lot of crying, and a period of feeling extremely sad. You may notice that eating and sleeping habits change and you may even feel physical aches and pains. Usually this stage will only be temporary, however if you find yourself stuck in this stage, you may need help to move forward. You may want to be alone during this time and distance yourself from others. You may also reflect during this stage and think about the experiences you shared with your loved one.

Although this is an important and natural stage and vital to have that time alone you must remain active. Going for walks is a great time for reflection. They allow you to be on your own whilst still keeping active and getting fresh air. Try and keep this stage as short as possible if you can. Start small by going for a coffee with friends or going to an exercise class. These small steps make a big impact.

Stage 6: Testing

This 6th stage is also commonly referred to as reconstruction or working through. It is during this stage that you try and find realistic ways on how to cope. As time passes it is inevitable that you will become more functional as you focus on everyday tasks that you did before the loss. This stage does not mean that your feelings of sadness, guilt and depression have suddenly disappeared, but it is a positive step.

Stage 7: Acceptance

The final stage and the ultimate aim is to get to the stage of acceptance. Although you will never be completely over the sense of loss after the death of a loved one, this stage is when you are able to tell yourself that “It’s going to be okay” and you can see hope. This is the time when you start to rebuild your life and focus on the future. Complete acceptance can help bring peace, but it is very rare that full acceptance will ever be achieved. You may always find it difficult to experience their birthday, anniversaries, Christmas and other special dates and the pain may never fully go away. However, this stage may help you reach the point where you can start talking about your loved one again to others without it feeling incredibly painful.

Do not expect instant happiness at this stage. You will never be truly the same person as before the death of a loved one, however the acceptance stage is when you learn to move forward with your life and understand that this event has changed you, but you need to embrace this changed version of you and that you have the strength to move forward.

It is not until you go through the entire grief process that you can look back and truly understand the stages of grief that you had been through. However, understanding these stages can help you understand your own behaviour and feel better as the stages can help validate them. It can also help when you are supporting a close friend or family member who is grieving.

There will never be a single model of grief that can explain the process in a simple way, as each of us are different and it is not something that can be clearly defined. However, this model can be helpful for many as it can serve as a guide of what to expect when grieving.

Here are some other important things to understand regarding the grief process

  • You may find yourself getting stuck in a certain stage of grief which you find impossible to move through. This is common and a grief counsellor can try and help you move through this phase.
  • You may find yourself in a cycle; never fully reaching acceptance. Again, this is common, so you are not alone if you find yourself in a situation where you regularly move through the shock, denial, guilt and anger stages. When this happens, it shows you have not thoroughly dealt with the first stages yet. Again, getting help and finding somebody to discuss your feelings with can help. It is always difficult to discuss your feelings, so sometimes talking to someone who is not a relative or friend, but a professional can help.
  • You may not feel all of these stages of grief and everyone will experience the stages for different lengths of times. You should never compare your grief to others as they will never be the same.
  • It is important to interpret the stages loosely as they vary so significantly for everyone.
  • No one has to suffer through grief alone. There are many people that you can talk to.
  • Try and eat healthily during grieving
  • Understand when you are near people who are grieving that they may do things and say things that they do not truly mean, so try not to take anything personally

Although these stages of grief are not definitive, understanding that the emotions that these stages describe are completely normal to feel. Knowing where you are in the grief process and that it is possible to get through it can really help with coming to terms with the death of your loved one and look to the future.

Our compassionate and professional team have years of experience creating funerals that are completely unique to the individual and respectful of the circumstances involved. For help and advice, please contact us on 0151 228 3900 or leave us a message through our contact us page by clicking here.