Losing a loved one causes unbearable pain at a complicated time of emotional strain. Initially devised to reflect emotions experienced by the terminally ill and their families, the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross theory has later been adapted for those experiencing loss.
Grief cannot be pinpointed to one particular feeling or emotion, there are various stages when one is going through a period of bereavement. A common fallacy is that every person will experience all five stages of grief, however loss takes people in a number of unpredictable directions and not everyone will experience all five emotions.
The five stages of grief can function as a way of processing and understanding our feelings after losing a loved one, although it is important to recognise that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Grief and denial are not an uncommon emotion after losing a loved one. Grief can cause people to deny the reality of the situation, and denial becomes a way of rationalising overwhelming emotions after losing someone. A way of minimising feelings of pain, denial can also give people time to adjust to this new reality, slowing the process of actually feeling any painful emotion associated with grief.
A natural stage of grief, anger can mask the emotion and pain a person is carrying. It may not surface as sheer rage, but instead resonate as feelings of resentment or bitterness towards others, or even towards inanimate objects. For people struggling with feelings of grief, anger can act as an emotional outlet, an alternative for those who fear judgment or rejection of a more vulnerable emotion.
Grief and anger can also leave someone feeling isolated, seeming unapproachable at a time when comfort and reassurance is most needed. Similarly to feelings of denial, anger can be experienced whilst trying to adjust to the new reality without someone.
If you or someone you know might be experiencing grief related anger, it is helpful to talk about it. Find local bereavement groups near you to find out more about dealing with anger and grief.
This period of grief occurs when a person attempts to regain control over the situation with ‘if only’ and ‘what if’ thoughts, for example:
- “if only we had sought medical attention sooner”
- “if only we got a second opinion”
- “what if I had asked him to stay home that day”
For many, these statements provide a form of relief from the pain of losing someone. By imagining a world where the person you love is still by your side can provide temporary refuge. In exploring these thoughts, one can make sense of what has happened and slowly come to understand that there is nothing that could have been done to cause a different end. Although in bargaining, some people may dwell on their own personal faults or regrets, reliving moments where they caused their loved one pain or didn’t spend enough time with them.
Religious individuals may also appeal to a higher power, making a deal or promise to God in return for healing or respite from grief.
Grief and depression are common after losing a loved one, a stage that comes when a person’s imagination has calmed, and the reality of the situation comes to light. At this point, it is as though the emotional daze begins to clear and the loss becomes more present and unavoidable. Someone experiencing depression is likely to withdraw from social occasions and decide against seeking help from family and friends.
During the initial phases of grief, one is virtually running away from the pain grief causes. However, depression can set in once the realisation of a loss has truly settled. Although this can be a turning point in terms of working through grief in a healthy manner, it is by no means an easy time for those experiencing it.
Depression after loss is not unusual. It will fade with time, however if you cannot seem to move forward and require help with grief and depression, consult with a mental health expert for advice.
Acceptance and grief
Acceptance is often misconstrued as the understanding that someone is now ok and entirely over the grieving process. However, this isn’t the case. This phase of grief is more about accepting the reality of loss; it is not that feelings of grief have subsided, but one is not longer resisting the reality of the pain. Grief is a deeply personal feeling to each individual, and acceptance is a stage where there are more good days than bad. There may still be bad, but it is important to realise that this is normal and that you will one day be able to move forward.
How do I know if I’m experiencing the five stages of grief?
Each person experiences grief on a different level, and some people may spend longer in one stage than another. The five stages of grief can help one to understand their emotions at a difficult time, working as a guide to coping with bereavement.
It is also key to remember that the line between each of these stages is blurred, someone might move from one stage to the other and even back again before moving to another phase of grief.
Find out more on dealing with grief.