When people experience the death of a loved one, they naturally go through a grieving process. That process looks different for everyone, but one thing is clear: There is no wrong way to experience grief.
Developed by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the five stages of grief describe key emotional reactions to the experience of dying. Not every grieving person experiences all five emotions, and there is no set period of time for how long each stage lasts. It’s OK to feel what you’re feeling. Coping with loss is not easy.
5 stages of grief
Grief is unique to the individual. No two people will grieve in the same way. While we may be able to understand what someone is going through, we will never fully understand how they feel. These stages can help you understand the emotions you’re feeling and identify where you are in the grieving process.
Denial is a coping and defense mechanism. We often suppress our emotions/grief and keep ourselves busy, so that we don’t have to feel or accept the loss of a loved one.
Anger can come in many forms, including rage or passive-aggressiveness to others. Rather than expressing how we feel, we try to cover it up, and much like a pot with a lid, eventually, the pain will bubble out and over often in unsuspecting ways toward unsuspecting victims.
During the bargaining stage of loss, people often experience guilt and think of “what if” scenarios. What if I would have spent more time with this person? What if they had taken care of themselves better? What if I would have taken their feelings more seriously?
This can also morph into spiritual bargaining — bargaining with your higher power for relief from the pain and confusion that you are feeling. It can also be bargaining with a higher power to heal someone or stop something from happening: “[Higher power], if you heal my loved one, I will…”
Depression is the stage where people feel stuck — they may have lost motivation or will to want to do anything with anyone. We may also lose sight of the future and question who we are as a person without our loved one or whatever it is that we lost (job, spouse, way of life). If depression has a severe impact on your activities of daily life, it’s a good idea to consult a therapist for help.
Accepting the reality that your loved one or way of life is gone doesn’t mean the grief or pain is also gone. Acceptance is where you give yourself permission to move forward.
How a grief coach can help
Experiencing grief is a personal journey, but you don’t have to do it alone. A grief coach is an unbiased third party who can listen to your thoughts and help you sit with and accept your feelings. You can move forward from a loss, whether it’s a loved one or way of life.