Only people who have lost a loved one can relate to the rollercoaster of emotions that happens through the grief process. At some point or another, every person will face at least one meeting with grief: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the end of a relationship.
The deep emotions that surface in the aftermath of this loss often have a life-altering effect that impacts much more than you would expect. The key to finding balance is to allow yourself to move through these stages of grief. The relief comes through your personal healing journey.
What is Grief?
When you lose someone you love, it’s common for strong, overwhelming emotions to set in. These emotions are a response to your loss – especially when you had a deep affection or bond with that person.
Some people find it difficult to make it through the day because they disconnect from the realities of life; others feel a deep sense of loss.
Regardless of the initial emotion that you feel, it’s normal to cycle through various emotions and stages of grief through the upcoming weeks and months. You can’t control this process. Instead, grief experts suggest that you try to prepare for the stages of grief and understand the common experiences people have while navigating grief.
How Long Does Grief Last?
It would be nice to know that there is an end-date to your grief. But the truth is that the grief cycle is a personal process that doesn’t follow schedules or timelines. You’ll experience the ups-and-downs as different emotions come up, sometimes feeling empty and withdrawn while other days bring anger and tears.
The stages of mourning can last for months or years. Generally, the intensity of the emotions subsides with time as you adapt to living life without your loved one.
While each person has a unique experience, you will likely pass through a few specific stages of grief & death – commonly known as the Kübler-Ross model, credited to Elisabeth Kübler Ross & David Kessler.
5 Stages of Grief and Loss
Grief and loss are most commonly associated with the final goodbye of a loved one at the end of their life. It’s also important to note that people often experience these stages of grief through other forms of loss, such as a breakup or divorce.
The grief process and healing experience vary depending on the circumstances you are facing. Not everyone experiences all five stages, and you may go through these stages in a different order. Some people stay in one of the stages for months and brush through other stages quickly – or skip them entirely.
What are the stages of grief, and how do you deal with them? The following tips will help with the common stages of loss with each of the five stages of grief you might face when someone dies:
When the emotions are overwhelming, a common reaction is to respond to the sudden and intense feelings by ignoring them or pretending it isn’t happening. This denial is a defense mechanism, numbing out to the intensity of the situation. It gives the mind time to process the news gradually.
Even though you can numb from the emotions for a time, these hidden emotions will eventually surface when you move out of this stage of grief. It can be challenging to transition into another stage of grief because of the intensity of the emotions.
- Example of the Denial Stage: “He’s not really gone. I keep expecting him to walk through the door any time.”
- How to Deal with This Stage: Continue to speak about the person and the memories you share together. It can be healing to talk about how much you miss the person.
When anger sets in, it is a mechanism to mask the grief – hiding the pain and emotions that are surfacing in your loss. Sometimes the anger is unexplainable. Other times, this anger is redirected at a person or even an inanimate object.
Logically, you know that the focus of your anger isn’t to blame. But the feelings in the moment are too intense to shift this perspective.
Anger can show up raw and intense. Or, you might experience varying related emotions, such as resentment, rage, or bitterness.
- Example of the Anger Stage: “This is all her fault. She wouldn’t be gone if she’d taken better care of herself.”
- How to Deal with This Stage: Lean into the pain and find a healthy way to work through the emotions. Spend a few hours at an ax-throwing center, go for a long car ride and yell it out, or have a pillow-punching session.
As you move into the bargaining stage of grief, it’s common to have helplessness and vulnerability set in. Your mind is looking for a solution to regain control of the situation, so you might be cycling through “if only” and “what if” statements.
Bargaining works as a defense against the deep emotions, helping you put off the hurt and sadness. In this stage, it’s common for a person with religious beliefs to make a promise with a higher power in exchange for relief or healing from grief.
- Example of the Bargaining Stage: “I should have done something different so he would still be here.”
- How to Deal with This Stage: Accept that there are circumstances outside your control. Try writing down your feelings and wishes to validate the bargaining thoughts that come to the surface.
Many of the stages of grief are active, causing you to feel intense emotions that are hard to manage. People often stay proactive to run away from the grief, trying to stay ahead of the pain and sadness. When the depression sets in, it feels like quiet desperation.
In the depression stage of grief, you might feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with daily life. Some people isolate themselves from loved ones so they can deal with the loss. Other common emotions in this stage of grief include heaviness, fogginess, and confusion.
- Example of the Depression Stage: “How will I ever live without her?”
- How to Deal with This Stage: Embrace the sadness and talk with other people who are experiencing grief from loss. Sharing your stories and learning that you’re not alone will decrease the isolation effects of depression. Also, practice self-care whenever you can.
Reaching the acceptance stage of grief doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel uplifted or happy. You are still experiencing loss and grief, but you are coming to an understanding of the new meaning it holds in your life.
Acceptance changes the way you see the world. You’ve been through an experience that alters your perspective and shifts priorities. Acceptance is an essential step to help you see that there is still hope in life, despite the changing emotions you might feel. You find a balance between the good and bad, finding a way to move forward.
- Example of the Acceptance Stage: “I’m just grateful that we had so many years together. We’ll hold to those memories and honor his legacy forever.”
- How to Deal with This Stage: Focus on self-care: read a book, get a massage, drink your morning coffee while watching the sunrise. If you find it difficult to move past this stage of grief, then it might be time to talk to a mental health expert.
Everyone has their own process for managing grief. Look at your experience with curiosity instead of judgment, allowing yourself the latitude to know that none of these things are wrong or unusual. The most important thing you can do is allow yourself to move through the emotions that arise so you can find healing and peace in your circumstances.