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Stages of Grief

Updated: Dec 26, 2018

Excerpt from “Jewels for the Grieving” by Helen Flynn.

Dark gray storm clouds in sky


Most of us are familiar with the stages of grief taught by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. They are shock, denial, bargaining, depression, anger and finally acceptance. It is not a straight path through these steps, but rather a cycling that can become stuck, and that repeats over and over. We may reach acceptance one day only to spend weeks more in anger or depression. We may be in the anger phase for one loss and in the depression phase for another. I liken grief to the waves of the ocean. At times the waves are pounding with great force and frequency, at other times it is less.

No one grieves the same way as another and not necessarily the same way each time. There is no one way or time length for grieving. However there is a “normal” course of the process.

First there is the initial reaction of intense pain, usually accompanied by tears, followed by a second stage of shock and apparent adjustment. The third stage entails the struggle to fully realize the reality of the loss.

Tears are nature’s way of relieving the weight of grief. It is a great mistake to suppress one’s emotions at a time of bereavement. Yet, what do we say to someone? “Don’t cry!” or we press comfort on the tearful one in an effort to stop the tears. That may make us feel better, but does not help the bereaved.

Tears may be followed by guilt and/or regret. We are not perfect human beings, nor are our relationships. Dwelling on our perceived failures or shortcomings is counter-productive. If you or someone you love is punishing themselves with remorse, the person needs professional help.

Just as the pain of a sever injury can cause a welcome unconsciousness, so a tremendous loss may be followed by a period of numbness. Many of us have seen people coping “remarkably well” especially during the first weeks or months and while doing what must be done.

The final stage is an end of the detachment and a full realization of the loss— a delayed reaction that has more impact than the original. A person may feel that life has lost meaning, may feel alone, without purpose (especially if they were caring intensely for a loved one). Guilt feelings, blame and anger (even towards God) return in force along with self-pity, misery, and despair. Those feelings are all normal, but must be contained within normal limits. Recognize that they are feelings and must be controlled. If one gives in to them or if they continue too long, the person may need help to regain perspective and get on with the business of living.

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