The Stages of Grief

If you have lived on this earth for very long, then you have experienced loss. I see it every day in my office. Loss of a relationship. Loss of a job, etc.

Someone we love moves far away or someone we love is not who we believed (hoped)) he or she to be. Perhaps you experienced a physical disability, or received a serious medical diagnosis. Or you came to realize the need to let go of a “beloved” and habitual means of coping with life because it’s destroying you. Or your relationships.

Any type of loss involves grief. And if we grieve, is it possible to grieve well? Most people have heard there are stages of grief. The Kubler-Ross model posits five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

As we grieve, we move in and out of different stages in what seems to be rather random order. Grief is an individual experience. No two people grieve alike. No one can truly know what another person’s experience really feels like and thus, grief can feel very lonely.

However, allowing ourselves to move through these five stages—messy though it may be—can eventually bring some sense of peace.

Five Stages of Grief:

  • Denial is pretty obvious. Those first few moments, days or weeks when we are stunned. Shocked by the reality of significant loss. Believing the death, diagnosis—or reality of our dysfunctional coping strategies—are not real, is or are some sort of mistake. Of course, eventually there is no more denying. Things have changed.
  • Anger may also seem to need no definition. There are times when we are angry—there has been a personal violation, an injustice done. We are angry at a family member, a friend, spouse, doctor or our circumstances. We are angry at ourselves. Angry at God.

However, sometimes what looks, even feels like anger, is actually fear or pain. Experiencing loss leaves us vulnerable. Most of us don’t like feeling vulnerable. Anger makes us feel stronger, gives us an illusion of control—but eventually we recognize we are just sad, just hurt. We are afraid. 

  • Bargaining is the place where we begin to say things like, if only I had…, if only he or she had…, if only the doctor had found it earlier…, if only I hadn’t…. This is the place where we believe we are more powerful than we truly are. Where we believe we are responsible for more than is reasonable—or we believe there is still a way for us to change the unchangeable.
  • Depression is the place where all who enter lose hope, we feel thoroughly defeated, stuck. We may be dealing with the reality of our choices, our limitations, our mortality—and it feels overwhelming. Sometimes this is the place where we begin to wonder if we will ever stop grieving. If life will ever get better. If life will always be like this.
  • Acceptance is where we all hope to eventually arrive. The place where we finally come to understand we will be okay in our new reality—no matter what. The place where we finally accept that we were never in control, we are—or are not—responsible. Where we can truly forgive. Truly let go. The darkness finally lifts and our loss is no longer the first thing we think of in the morning and the last thing we think about at night.

We all want to get to acceptance. We want it now. But what I know from my personal story—and from the stories I have the privilege to hear every day—this part is not easy to get to. Unfortunately, some people never do.

Here’s the thing about grief, it seems easier to go it alone. But don’t.

Allow someone you still trust to walk with you through these stages. Someone who will point you toward Hope. Because wherever you are in the grieving process, there is One who goes before you and He promises to sustain you.

~Cathy

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