These are the 5 stages of grief you go through after a death

·7-min read
Photo credit: Halfpoint Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Halfpoint Images - Getty Images

In light of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II’s death on 8 September 2022 we’re re-sharing the below article on grief as we navigate this sad time of national mourning.

Lianna Champ has over 40 years of experience in grief and bereavement counselling and is the author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ. Here, she shares the stages of grief, along with coping strategies that can help along the way.

We often hear about the stages of grief – and it would be encouraging to think that we do go through certain stages and come out the other side stronger and wiser. At least that would seem to give us some semblance of what to expect. However, grief is much more unpredictable than that, and we don’t always follow stages but what we do share, rather than stages, are the symptoms of grief.

The symptoms of grief are various and overwhelming and we can feel so many things all at once and in any order. Grief is incredibly personal and even though we may share similar emotions to others, no two people will experience loss in quite the same way. The grief experience is as unique to each of us as our own fingerprint. There is no magic formula and no one size fits all.

Often it can take weeks or months for the reality and deep pain of the loss to sink in. There are several factors involved in how we cope: who we are as people, the things we learned about loss as children, where we are at in our lives and, of course, the nature of the relationship with the person we have lost.

Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

What are the stages of grief?

In her influential 1969 books On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief following the diagnosis of a terminal illness.

They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages have come to be known as the five stages of grief following loss in general, particularly the death of someone significant. It's important to note that some of us may experience some of these feelings, and this can happen in no particular order. This because grief is a complex, multilayered process.

Stages of grief: Denial

We can never deny that someone has died, but we can choose not to believe it. There is shock, numbness and we may not want to let the truth in. We may even try to carry on as if nothing has happened.

Stages of grief: Anger

When we suffer a significant loss, we go through a roller coaster of emotions. In this mix of emotions, anger can be thrown up. Anger is not an emotion in its own right, but stems from hurt, fear or sadness.

Grief makes us feel out of control and that in itself is scary. The anger can grow into a large ball and it can be easier to remain angry than to process the truth around the pain of our grief. And even though anger means we are not in control, it can trick us into thinking we are.

Bitterness, frustration, lack of being able to control what has happened can all manifest in the feeling anger. We may lose patience with ourselves and wonder why we haven’t ‘got over’ it. Anger is not a forward emotion, it holds us in the same place. Always. Unless we identify what we are really afraid of.

Stages of grief: Bargaining

We can never change what has happened, no matter what promises we make. We can only resolve to do better or be better. We cannot swap one emotion for another, we can only admit how we really feel through our losses, so we come through the other side.

Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

Stages of grief: Depression

The symptoms of grief are so similar to that of depression. Grievers have a reduced sense of concentration and often have trouble focusing. It plays havoc with their sleeping and eating patterns, and simple tasks become difficult.

Grievers can also self-identify as being depressive, if they believe this is a stage they must go through. If we ignore our sadness and carry unresolved grief, it can have a negative impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

When we grieve, our emotions can feel overwhelming. In grief, the intense sadness of the early days can be lifted in the times we share our happy memories of the person who has died. We then remember and return to grieving. This is normal, however, if months after the loss your intense feeling of sadness is persistent and pervasive (and you feel disconnected from everything around you and are struggling to get back into the mainstream of living) then you may be suffering from depression.

Also, if you have feelings of hopelessness about the future and are struggling to think outside of yourself. If you have suffered from depression previously, you need to be extra vigilant when you experience your losses. If you feel that you may be suffering from depression, no matter how mild, please reach out for help. Talk to someone you feel safe sharing your feelings with, speak to your GP or find a local mental health support charity via Hub of Hope.

Stages of grief: Acceptance

We arrive at acceptance when we have reconciled the feelings of our loss, and found ways to continue our emotional relationship with the person who has died. Some may feel that if they move forward they are losing their loved one again, but when we find ways to stay connected – and continue our bonds – we allow ourselves the joy of living meaningfully.

Stages of grief: Remember this

As human beings, we never naturally stay in any one state indefinitely and we are constantly fluctuating. As long as you keep coming up for air, you know that you will survive. Be open to, and embrace, your feelings whilst you grieve and be kind to yourself – don’t expect too much.

We don’t recover from loss, we learn to live with it by accepting and managing it. Part of the healing process is to feel your feelings and process your thoughts, so you can take your learnings and begin to move forward. If you make your life about missing someone instead of accepting their death you may make yourself resistant to healing.

Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

Tips for coping with the stages of grief

  • Have a support network in place. This could be made up of designated people or someone who you can talk to about your loss and feelings confidentially.

  • Spend some quiet time. There is much inner learning to be found in silence.

  • Take extra-special care of yourself. Just as you would dress a wound, the heart needs tending too, but be wary of short-term relievers such as alcohol and junk food.

  • Eat well. Little and often is good. It is easy to neglect our nutrition at this time, but diet is important in keeping us physically well.

  • Don’t isolate yourself. It’s ok to have ‘me time’, but make sure you spend time with family and friends.

  • Rest and sleep when you need to.

  • Fresh air and exercise are like a spoonful of medicine, even if you have to force yourself, you will always feel that little bit better afterwards.

  • Accept that the person who has died will always be a part of you and you will always have those moments of sadness.

  • Try journaling. Find a lovely notebook and put your feelings into words. They don’t need to be poetic or even make sense, no-one is reading this, only you, so be honest with yourself. This can be so therapeutic.

  • Create rituals for remembering. It is important to connect and have moments when we allow ourselves to feel the sadness of loss, and to focus our thoughts on the person who has died.

  • Every so often look back and see how far you have come.

If you need help and support with grief, you can contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their website or call 0808 808 1677. You can find a bereavement counsellor via the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website.

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