Understanding the Stages of Grief

Jan 09, 2023

"I hope death is like being carried to your bedroom when you were a child & fell asleep on the couch during a family party. I hope you can hear the laughter from the next room." -Unknown


Grief is an incredibly painful experience that can leave us feeling lost, isolated, and overwhelmed. In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described five stages of grief that have become widely known as the “Kübler-Ross model”. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are all part of the process of mourning a loss. Let’s explore each stage in greater depth and discuss how to work through them effectively.



The first stage of grief is denial. When we receive news that someone has died or is dying, our immediate reaction is often one of shock and disbelief. We may feel numb or unable to process what has happened. This emotional numbing prevents us from accepting the reality of the situation and can last for days or even weeks. The purpose of this stage is to protect us from overwhelming pain while we adjust to the heartbreaking news.



The second stage is anger, which can manifest itself in many different forms including frustration, rage, blame, guilt, and envy. We may be angry at ourselves for not being there when our loved one passed away or angry at God for taking them too soon. These feelings are natural but it’s important to remember that they are temporary and will pass with time. It’s also important to be honest about how you feel so that you can begin to heal.



The third stage is bargaining—the search for a way out of pain by making deals with God or other higher powers in exchange for something better than what has been taken away from us. We may think if only we had done something differently then our loved one would still be here with us today. This stage helps us cope with loss by offering hope that something good will come out of it eventually—a way to make sense out of an incomprehensible tragedy.



The fourth stage is depression—a deep sadness and emptiness caused by loss that can leave us feeling helpless and hopeless about the future without our loved one in it. We may struggle with insomnia or concentration problems as we try to come to terms with what has happened and accept their absence from our lives going forward. This isn’t easy but it’s important to recognize that this pain won’t last forever; there will be brighter days ahead once we have worked through this difficult period in our lives.



The fifth –and final–stage is acceptance. This doesn't mean everything suddenly becomes okay; rather, it means we are able to accept the reality of what has happened without feeling overwhelmed by emotions like anger, guilt, or sadness. While this doesn't make things easier, it does make them more bearable because we no longer feel like we have no control over our emotions.

The Pain Associated With Grief 

Grief is a difficult emotion for anyone who experiences it — there is no denying that fact. But it gets even more complicated when someone begins to grapple with mixed feelings about the deceased person — both positive and negative memories intertwined with one another — making it hard for them to process their emotions effectively and make sense of everything surrounding them during this time of mourning. It’s important for those experiencing grief not only acknowledge these confusing emotions but also express them openly so they don’t remain stuck in any particular phase — especially if they have reached acceptance but still find themselves struggling with unresolved feelings related to their loss. 


One exercise many people find helpful during this time is writing a letter to their lost loved one addressing all their unresolved issues –both positive & negative –and imagining how they might respond if they were still here today. This helps give closure & peace before moving on with life without them.



The five stages described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—are an essential part of understanding how people respond emotionally when faced with death or dying. Grief can be an excruciatingly painful experience but recognizing these stages can help us move through the process more effectively & develop healthier coping mechanisms along the way. Writing letters & engaging in other activities such as journaling, talking about your feelings, & seeking help from counselors & therapists are all great ways to navigate through grief successfully. No matter how hard it gets, remember –you don't have go through this alone. There are always people who care & want nothing more than see you happy again. Good luck!

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