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Stages of Grief

Grief is a difficult and highly personal process. Remember that your other family members and friends are going to have strong feelings as well.

Most people pass through five stages of grief, which were originally identified by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her pioneering 1969 work On Death and Dying. The process isn’t necessarily a linear one, though. You may find yourself bouncing between one stage and another, and some stages will take less time than others.

As you go through these stages, keep in mind that you can’t fight the natural psychological process of grief and that it has no expiration date. Give yourself and those around you all the time you need to go through these five stages.

The Stages of Grief

Stage 1: Denial

In the first moments and days after the death of someone you love, you may feel shocked or in denial. Even though you might know intellectually that you should be sad, that sorrow may feel less intense than you’d expected. Many people report feelings of numbness. If you were the primary caregiver, you may feel a loss of purpose with the loss of your charge.

What you might be feeling:

  • Numbness

  • Distraction

  • A sense of unreality

  • Separation from other people

  • Without purpose

During this stage, permit yourself to feel exactly what you feel. If you can’t cry, it’s OK. If you cry most of the time, that’s OK too. Try to push through the denial by talking about what you are going through with others.

Stage 2: Anger

After you get through the initial pain, you may find yourself angry and reactive. This is in part a natural response to protect yourself from the pain you’re experiencing, but it can be unsettling to both you and to others. If left unchecked, your anger and frustration can turn into bitterness.

What you might be feeling:

  • Sudden bursts of outrage, feelings that it “isn’t fair”

  • Frustration

  • Resentment

  • Self-pity

During this stage, try to avoid the people or situations that seem to spark your anger and frustration. Tell those around you what you are experiencing, so they will be more understanding about your anger. Most importantly, remember that these feelings will eventually pass.

Stage 3: Bargaining

This is the stage when you might start thinking about what might have been. It’s fairly common for the recently bereaved to believe that something they did or failed to do was the reason for their loved one’s death. It’s also normal for the recently bereaved to fantasize about being able to bring back someone who has died, even though they know it’s not possible. This stage appears to postpone some of the sadness, confusion and pain of grief.

What you might be feeling:

  • Regret

  • Guilt

  • Desire to go back and change the past

Bargaining can bring on feelings of extreme guilt. During this stage, keep in mind that there’s nothing you can do to change the inevitability of death or the events of the past.

Stage 4: Depression

As you emotionally work through what has happened, your feelings will intensify. This is when grief can be at its most difficult. You may blame yourself for what happened, or you may feel regret for what was left unsaid. Sometimes you will feel relief, and that relief can bring even more guilt. All of these feelings are normal.

What you might be feeling:

  • Extreme changes in your mood

  • Exhaustion, including emotional exhaustion

  • Guilt

To get through this stage, it’s important to talk through your memories while finding ways to keep your mind from replaying negative ones over and over. Give yourself room to feel these feelings, but reach out for help if you feel too down and depressed. Consider joining a support group or speaking to a therapist.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Over time, you will find yourself moving past the grief and accepting what has happened. Sometimes this is an active choice, and sometimes it happens because life moves on and you have no choice but to move on with it. This step can be very gradual and slow, and that is healthy.

What you might be feeling:

  • Reawakening to the world around you

  • New moments of joy, followed by feelings of guilt for that joy

  • New strength

  • Feeling that you are moving into a new stage of life

This is the time to start giving back to others and seeking out satisfying experiences. You are ready. Make sure you don’t give in to “survivor’s guilt” — a feeling that you don’t deserve to be happy because of what you have lost.

If you would like to learn more from a trusted resource, please follow these links for specific end-of-life information:





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