One of the hardest things to cope with is the death of a loved one. But grief can also happen as a result of any loss: a job, a relationship, independence, or even a treasured item. It’s a natural reaction and process that we all encounter at some point in our lives. If you’ve recently experienced loss, it helps to know that anger, depression, pain, and guilt are all normal emotions. Healing happens with time, but sometimes people may grieve for years. Although everyone processes grief differently, and there really is no time limit placed on grieving, it can still be helpful to learn about the stages of grieving so you can know what to expect and better prepare yourself.
What are the Stages of Grieving?
Denial: This initial phase of the grieving process is a natural reaction, or what psychologists call a defense mechanism. Denial actually helps us cope with the shock of losing someone or receiving tragic news. This is also the phase when people may isolate themselves to begin processing the loss.
Anger: As reality starts to set in, the person grieving begins to express their pain through anger. This anger can be misdirected at doctors, the person they are grieving, other people, or even inanimate objects. Deep down we know that none of these people or things are to blame, and this may cause us to feel guilty, which ultimately causes more anger to set in.
Bargaining: At the bargaining stage, we start to process feelings of guilt. We may start to question what we could have done differently to prevent the loss. This is the stage of “what ifs.” What if we went to the doctor sooner? What if I kept my grandma’s necklace in a safe, so nobody had access to it? What if I had stayed later every night at work, would I still have my job? This is also the stage when people make deals with their higher power for a more favorable outcome.
Depression: People express their sorrow in different ways. A normal part of the grieving process is depression. Some may retreat, lose interest in activities, eat more, eat less, feel worthless or guilty, have insomnia, or deal with more complicated grief like delusions or recurrent thoughts of death.
Acceptance: Not everyone will be able to accept their loss, but most people who reach this phase find calmness. Those who are dying typically withdraw at this phase. It doesn’t mean that the person agrees with what has happened, but they learn to live with it and adjust to the new norm. When given enough time to go through the stages of grieving, we may start to reach out to others.