Stages of Grief and How to Cope With Loss
If you are as old as me or maybe older, chances are that you have experienced the death of a loved one, or know someone who has been greatly affected by a loss. It is often very difficult to find the words to say to someone who has gone through a loss. It is even harder for us to find the right way to tell our own selfs that grieving is normal. Death is inevitable, and while we hope we never lose our loved ones we know that is just wishful thinking. Many professionals have classified grief into stages; aiming to explain what most people go through when faced with grief. The following is a brief introduction and description. Some of these may not be experience by all in the same order. Some even suggest that there are more stages than mentioned below. These are however the most commonly listed.
Stages of Grief
Stage 1: Denial
This stage usually occurs first almost immediately after hearing about the loss. People may know that the facts are a reality and that they have lost someone. They however cannot believe that the person will no longer call or be in their life. They in a sense do not want or refuse to believe they are gone although they understand that death is irreversible. They may not want to deal with the idea that their loss is forever.
Stage 2: Anger
This anger can be directed towards many people. We may feel mad at ourselves because we may believe we are at fault or that we could have changed the outcome if we could have only done X, Y, or Z. We may feel angry at the person who died because they “abandoned” us. We may be angry at the circumstance or the events leading to the loss. There may be direct anger at a third person whom may have been at fault for the loss. *Authors believe this stage is important because it allows the person going through grief to recognize their own emotions and may begin the path to healing. They are no longer denying themselves the right to feel and express such emotions.
Stage 3: Bargaining
This stage is most described as the “what if” stage. In this stage we may find ourselves wondering what would happen if things were changed. We begin to try to create alternate scenarios in our head that may lead to changes in events.
Stage 4: Depression
This is the stage that most people may associate with grief. The feelings of sadness may occur at the very instant we find out we have lost someone, but authors believe this stage is a necessary and important part of the grieving and healing process.
Stage 5: Acceptance
This stage may be the last stage for most people. They may begin to accept that things cannot be changed and their loved one(s) cannot come back. They may begin to reconcile with the idea that their life must go on despite the loss of an important person in their lives.
Grief is Healthy
I once had a psychology professor who told us he lost his father when he was a teenager. He said he never dealt with the feelings and that he pushed his emotions aside. He did not want to deal with the sadness so he ignored it. He went on to tell us that years later as an adult he found himself in a deep depression and began to severely mourn his father. He had suppressed his emotions for so long that when they appeared he was going through the loss all over again.
- Like mentioned before, the above stages are not set in stone. Some people skip through stages and go straight to feeling depressed.
- Some stages become combined and people feel all these things at once.
- suppressing emotions does not make them go away for ever, and sadly death is something we may encounter more than once in our lives.
- Grieving is healthy, and may take longer for some people. That is okay
Grief is different for everyone
- Some people may be too afraid or embarrassed to admit that they feel grief or are going through one of the stages. This may affect the amount of time it takes for them to heal from a loss (Bolden, 2007).
- Bolden (2007) tells us that grief may look and feel different depending on the type of loss we experience. Since we may not know the extent of our loss or meaning of our loss until later, we may not be aware of how much it may affect us.
How to deal with or help someone going to a loss
I have lost a lot of people close to me. Too many to count. I have met people my age who have never went to a funeral or who have never lost someone close to them. What I have found is that it is never easy to find the right words to say, because frankly there really is not a perfect response to give them. Here are the things that have helped me.
- Refrain from saying things like “I understand what you are going through.” People are more likely to feel like their situation is unique to them and they may not want to hear a general response like that from you. Instead you can say things like “I may not fully know what you are going through right now, but I want you to know that I am here to support you.”
- Never tell someone to “get over it.” Grief is felt different and not everyone can just “get over” situations. If you feel that someone is taking maybe longer to deal with grief then you can offer to help them look for resources that may help them.
- Constant reminders: If you are going through a loss then you have to remember that the emotions you are feeling are not dumb or weird and that feeling sadness does not make you weak. You will get better at your own time, but you can take all the time you need.
- * In my opinion grief happens in waves. While we may think we have healed, certain memories may resurface long after and we may find ourselves going through the stages all over again
As always thank you for reading and I hope that you have found this information useful. Do not be ashamed to seek help if you find yourself lost in this stage of your life. Grief is normal, and healing is healthy. I have added some resources below that I used to write some of this post. Some of the authors include books that you may find helpful and information that may resonate with you.
Bolden, L. A. (2007). A Review of On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. Counseling & Values, 51(3), 235-237.
Hartshorne, T. S. (2003). Grief and Mourning from an Adlerian Perspective. Journal Of Individual Psychology, 59(2), 145.