Most of us have heard about the five stages of grief, yet so often we forget that going through these stages can be a very fluid process and last a very long time. Let’s spend a few minutes looking at what these stages can feel like, and remember that we can cycle through any of these stages multiple time over many years, depending on the difficulty of the loss.
Denial: When we are in denial over a loss, we simply cannot believe that loss has actually happened. We expect that we might wake up from this bad dream and any moment and find out that things are still as they should be. We are often in shock, possibly crying without being able to stop it and possibly just numb, unaware of how we are being affected.
Anger: When we are angry, we often blame others or situations for our loss. We often get angry at God or whatever higher power we believe in. We might act out or lash out in ways that surprise us. For kids, they often get stuck here and their behaviors become very difficult. But even as adults, we may wonder why we are feeling rage at people we care about or irritation with everyone we meet.
Bargaining: When we are in the bargaining phase, we often bargain with others, ourselves, or our higher power to try to trade places with the person we have lost. We might think through deals that would make our situation change and believe that we can have some power over this powerless experience of loss.
Depression: This phase can feel draining. We experience a loss of energy that can be so profound we can’t function. Often we can’t sleep, but we can’t find a way to be productive either. We may cry a lot during this phase as well and we just feel hopeless. Some may even feel that life isn’t worth living, and for others it may just feel hard to do anything at all. The word “despair” comes to mind.
Acceptance: This is where we all want to be. Sometimes we get here, but then we fall out of it again into one of the other phases. When we have acceptance, we may still feel sadness, nostalgia, or even emptiness when we think about our loss, but we can also remember the good that we experienced. We see our own way forward in a world changed by the loss we have experienced.
If you or someone you care about has experienced a loss, be patient with them or with yourself. Grief is a long process and it is different for every single one of us.