If you’ve ever lost a loved one, then you’ve probably heard about the five stages of grief. These five stages are universal and are experienced by people of all backgrounds and from all walks of life. While the grieving may not go through the stages of grief in the same order, they will experience all of them. Understanding these five stages of grief can help you heal through the mourning process.
The stages of grief were developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as she observed people living with terminal illnesses. Since the publication of her book On Death and Dying, these stages have in a way become the gauge by which all grief is measured.
Let’s take a look at each stage in depth so you can know how to navigate these feelings when the time comes.
During bereavement, people may spend different lengths of time working through each step. We may experience and express each stage differently and will varying levels of intensity. The five stages of grief don't occur in any specific order and well often move between stages with some back and forth before achieving a more peaceful acceptance of death.
If you don’t experience the stages of grief in the order listed below, don’t worry. You don’t need to go through all of the stages to understand them. Going through all of the stages can take years, even a lifetime. There's no wrong or right way to grieve. Look at these stages as guides to the grieving process — all they do is help you understand the feelings you’re experiencing. Remember that people grieve differently. Some experience their grief internally where others will wear their hearts on their sleeves. When a loved one dies, don't judge people on how they grieve. It’s a painful time for everyone.
The very normal first reaction to learning about a terminal illness, loss, or death of a loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. You may think to yourself: this isn’t happening. This can’t be happening. Rationalising your overwhelming emotions is a very natural human trait that serves as a defence mechanism to help you manage the immediate shock of loss. It’s how a lot of us get through the pain of losing someone.
As an emotion, anger gets a bad reputation, but it exists for a purpose. Sometimes getting angry can make you feel more in control of a situation, particularly one as devastating as losing someone you love. As denial and isolation begin to subside, a painful reality emerges. If we’re not ready to be confronted by this loss, sometimes the best way to harness these emotions is to get angry. This anger may be aimed at objects, strangers, friends, family and even the person who died. Anger isn’t rational. There are ways for you to manage the anger you feel – go for a long walk, talk with your friends, make some art. Don’t feel guilty for feeling angry at the person you lost. The anger won’t last forever. Be gentle with yourself and remember that losing someone close to you is a monumental experience. You’re entitled to all of the emotions you feel, good and bad.
When we feel helpless or vulnerable we enter the bargaining process where we try to make a deal with a higher power. This is yet another line of defence to protect us from the painful reality of having lost someone we love. We might say: "If you bring them back to me I’ll be better." We might even offer ourselves in place of the deceased: "If you bring them back you can take me instead."
This reaction, while it may not be logical or rational, is completely normal. Just know that you will not be able to bring your loved one back. That doesn’t mean you can’t honour them during the time you have left on earth.
This stage is the most understandable when it comes to mourning. When we lose someone we expect to be devastated by the loss. Sadness and regret dominate our thoughts. We worry about the costs and burial. We feel guilty that we didn’t spend enough time with our loved one, and that we’re not spending enough time with the people we still have. This anxiety is a form of depression. It can be managed by talking about these feelings with a health care professional, friends, or family.
This stage of grieving is not something that everyone will experience. A sudden or unexpected death may cause some of us to stay in Anger or Denial for much longer than usual. Remember, we all grieve differently and there is no set timeline to go through these emotions.
The acceptance stage is marked by withdrawal and calm. While you may be less sad, this stage doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done grieving. Yes, you have accepted that your loved one is gone, but can still feel pain about this. Coping with loss is a deeply personal and singular experience or completely understand all the emotions that you’re going through, even if they’ve lost people, too. The best thing you can do for yourself is to allow yourself to feel the grief. Accept the loss. Accept the pain. Then the healing process can truly begin.
While the five stages of grief serve as a kind of roadmap for a painful and disorienting time, they do not guarantee an end to grief. Grief is as individual as love. There is no predictable pattern, and no linear progression of processing the difficult emotions that accompany death and dying. In fact, in her later year, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote that she regretted writing the stages of grief the way she did. She didn’t mean for them to be taken as linear. These stages were common experiences rather than stages per se. None of the stages are required to process grief, they are simply an indication to what some might feel when grieving.
The stages of grief don't dictate how to grieve. Elisabeth didn't create them to judge either, as there's no one way of grieving. When she came up with the idea it was so people who were grieving could be comforted in the fact that they weren't alone in their emotions. Grief is a natural response when someone you love is taken from your life. It can be a beautiful process: a process of the heart being smashed and broken open, and then repairing itself over time.
The truth is, we cannot force an order on pain. Death isn’t tidy or predictable. But you can be prepared for the worst. Getting a life insurance plan while you’re young and healthy can help your loved ones later on. By setting them up financially, they’ll have the time to grieve for you properly. It’s the most beautiful gift you could leave them.
For more information on our various life insurance policies, get in touch today