Understanding the 5 stages of grief

- 23/08/21

Grief is a very personal thing – perhaps one of the most personal things we’ll experience. It’s hard to generalise about grief as everyone feels and reacts to it differently. When you, or someone you know, loses a loved one, you grieve in your own way - just as they grieve in theirs. What’s important to remember is that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.

For most people, it’s common to experience grief in stages and to feel different emotions from one day to the next. You may have heard about the five stages of grief before - a model first created in the 1960s to better understand and manage grief. While your grief might not necessarily happen this way, or in this order, recognising the different manifestations of grief can make them easier to deal with. It can be a comfort to know that other people have gone through the same emotional changes that you are. The five stages are:

1. Denial

It takes time for something as painful as a bereavement to set in. For some, it can take a while to process the fact that a loved one is not coming back and adjust to their new reality. Don’t be surprised if you find a bereaved person acting as if nothing has happened, they ‘re simply trying to minimise the sense of pain while processing their loss.

2. Anger

Anger at the deceased, or themselves, is a common emotion in the bereaved. They may feel that death is cruel and unfair and have a sense of having been abandoned by their loved one. The anger is a strong emotional response that often masks their sadness and fear for the future. The bereaved may seem difficult and unapproachable at the time when they need comfort and support the most.

3. Bargaining

The sense of helplessness when someone dies often triggers strong feelings of regret that things hadn’t turned out differently. ‘What if I’d done this’ or ‘If only that had happened’ are common thoughts where the bereaved person wishes they could go back and change the past. They imagine themselves bargaining with a higher power to bring their loved one back.

4. Depression

When the reality of a death sinks in, the overwhelming sense of sadness can lead to depression. They may feel that carrying on no longer has any purpose and that their own life is effectively over too. And as depressed people can become withdrawn and difficult to reach, they can become more isolated and cut off from everyday life.

Depression can last weeks or even years and may come in waves. The bereaved may appear accepting and upbeat one day and deeply sad the next.

5. Acceptance

Although the loss of a loved one never leaves, there slowly comes a time when the pain eases and the bereaved can start to live life again, happy in their memories and grateful for what the deceased brought to their life.

While these five stages of grief are common, it’s important to remember that not everybody experiences them in this order. For some, powerful feelings like anger and depression may continue to resurface from time to time. Just remember, although the expression ‘time is a great healer’ is a bit of a cliché, it holds a strong element of truth.