The Five Stages of Grief

And how understanding them can help us heal.

Chantelle Grady
Nov 6 · 5 min read

When someone you love passes away it can be devastating. We all know death is inevitable, but despite knowing it looms in the distance, it still manages to cause incredible sorrow.

When grieving, it can seem almost impossible to move forward. There is an emptiness and dark void that engulfs you. You almost don’t want to move forward, for doing so means walking further from the love you lost.

My mother committed suicide nearly three and a half years ago. It was a tragic event. I still shake my head in disbelief. She was a beautiful woman with blonde hair and blue eyes who knew how to make others happy.

But sadly, she wasn’t able to escape the dark cloud that consumed her mind. There was loneliness within her, and a disconnect to herself.

At the time life stood still. Heads hung low and our hearts ached with pain. This person who had such a beautiful presence in all of our lives was, in an instant, gone.

What you soon discover about death, however, is that life must go on. It has to whether you like it or not. Work needs to be done, bills need to be paid, children need to be fed, calls need to be answered and so on.

Life moves forward one day at a time. And in a way it carries you along, encouraging you to keep going.


Grieving over a loved one is a process. The time it takes varies for each of us.

What Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposes in her book On Death and Dying, is that we all venture through a series of stages, no matter what path we walk in life and what culture we are from.

The stages don’t necessarily occur in a specific order, but we each move through them in our own way until we begin to accept what happened and feel peace in our heart again.

When we have an understanding of the stages of grief, it can help us navigate these dark moments of life. It can better equip us for when we feel sorrow over the loss of another loved one.


Denial

When we lose a loved one it’s hard to comprehend. We shake our head, saying to ourselves over and over, “This isn’t happening. How is this possible?” — especially since we may have only recently spoken with the person who has now left us.

It can take us time to process something that seems so unreal into something that is our new reality.

Denial helps us by slowing everything down, for if we rush, we risk feeling overwhelmed by our emotions. It’s a defence mechanism that helps us cope with all of the pain.

Anger

It’s quite common to feel anger after we lose a loved one. Anger towards the one who left us for causing pain by leaving us. Anger towards doctors for not doing more to prevent their death. Anger towards loved ones or even ourselves, for not showing more love and support while they were still alive.

This anger can often push others away. It can be isolating, making us unapproachable.

Whilst isolating ourselves is what we perhaps need during this stage, we must soon let others back into our life again. We need comfort and connection to move forward.

Bargaining

After we lose a loved one, we may begin to bargain or try to regain control by using “what if” or “if only” statements.

“What if I showed her more love” was something I repeated to myself over and over after I lost my mother.

“If only we saw a different doctor” might be another. Or “What if he gave up that job instead of pushing his body so hard.”

There is much guilt and regret to be felt whilst navigating this stage. We believe that there was something we could have done differently or more that could have been done to prevent our loved one from departing.

It’s almost as if we direct our requests to a higher power. For some it’s God. For others, it’s simply something beyond ourselves.

Depression

Depression can occur when the reality of the situation sinks in. It is very clear now that our loved one is no longer with us. Our bargaining within ourselves hasn’t brought our loved one back. They are gone and life must keep going.

What lingers is an incredible sense of loneliness and a void within ourselves.

We may retreat and isolate ourselves from everything. There is an air of melancholy surrounding us. It’s at this time especially that we need to feel loved by others. We need to let them back in.

Acceptance

Acceptance might not happen for all of us. Some of us might carry the anger we feel over a sudden departure right up until our own death. Others will reach this place far sooner.

What I’ve found through my own experience is that acceptance is a choice. We can choose to keep feeling this anger and resentment, and questioning something that can no longer be questioned. Or we can choose to surrender to the pain, accept it for what it is, and move forward.

When we accept, we begin to feel calm. We can breathe once again.


‘The reality is that you will grieve forever.
You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it.
You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered.
You will be whole again but you will never be the same.
Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.’ — Elisabeth Kübler-Ross


We all cope with loss in our own way. It will take some of us longer than others. And while the experience of it can be incredibly uncomfortable and confronting, it’s necessary for our growth.

It’s what helps us widen the lens of life, and zoom in on what truly matters. It’s a reminder that life is fragile and fleeting and that you should pay attention to every moment while you can. It encourages us to hug those still with us tighter, and show them how much we love them.


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Thanks to Reed Rawlings

Chantelle Grady

Written by

Writer | Photographer | Mother | Thoughts on living well

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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