In this article, we’re going to look at the 5 stages of grief. This grief model was developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist, a pioneer in the study of grief, and the person who developed the stage-based model that describes the feelings that dying people experience. She later extended this model to people suffering any major loss including health, career or job, marriage, or the death of a loved one.
We’re going to look at the 5 stages of grief in the context of the death of a loved one. The first thing to point out is that no one person is the same. And the grieving process is unique to each individual. People may begin their grieving process at different points in the 5 stages of grief. And they may experience only some of the 5 stages of grief.
What are the 5 stages of grief in order?
Kubler-Ross developed a simple stage-based system to help people understand the grieving process. In order these stages are:
Remember, different people will experience the grieving process in different ways on their journey to accepting the tragedy that has befallen them, whether the loss of a loved one,e marriage, or something else.
During this first of the 5 stages of grief, you may experience numbness and a feeling that life has become overwhelming. Denial and shock are coping mechanisms that allow us to get through each day. They make survival possible after a loss. There is a certain elegance to denial in that the subconscious mind slows down the overwhelming emotions, thoughts, and feelings that go through your mind, and allows you to process things at a speed that you can cope with.
You will slowly begin to come to the realisation that your loss is real, and allow yourself to start asking questions and understanding the circumstances that you are in. And slowly, the healing process will begin. Over time, the feelings that you denied yourself will begin to surface, and you will be able to deal with them.
Anger is the emotion that we are probably most experienced in dealing with. During the grieving process, you will feel anger. A lot of it. With the doctors, with your friends, family, and even your loved one who has died. It might be that it seems like your anger will never end. But the more that you allow yourself to feel it, the sooner it will begin to dissipate. And beneath the anger are many other emotions waiting to surface. And your pain is among them. Anger is often regarded as a negative emotion, but in this case, it can provide structure.
In the loneliness of loss, you may feel like you have become disconnected from your life and your loved ones. Anger can provide focus, strength, and purpose. Usually, we are used to suppressing our anger, but the stronger we feel it during our own grieving process the more we can be reassured about our love for the person we have lost.
During this stage you may ask all the “what if”, and “if only” questions. It’s the “Ebeneezer Scrooge” scenario. What if you promise to change your ways. Can you wake up and this has all been a horrible dream? That’s your attempt at negotiation. Before your loss, you may have gone through a similar process. “If I do this, can my loved one’s illness go away?”. These feelings could last minutes and be fleeting, coming or going. Everyone is different. While you’re negotiating, you will probably feel guilt as well. “What could I have done differently?” You may even attempt to bargain with your own pain, living in the past. These are all reactions to emotions, especially pain, coming to the surface, often after you have found peace with your anger.
The depression that you feel is a reaction to your great loss. It’s important to understand that this isn’t a mental illness, but rather your reactions to the empty feelings that you may have, and the deep sense of grief that will enter your mind. It may feel like your depression will last forever. You may retreat from your life, wondering if there is much point in carrying on alone, especially if you have lost a spouse. And you may be left with feelings of great sadness. This is the time to understand your feelings and work through them. It is far too tempting to take the “stiff upper lip” approach, and depression during the grieving process is often regarded as something to snap out of
It is, of course, completely normal to feel depressed when you lose a loved one, and not doing so would be unusual. But remember that grief, the grieving process, is one of healing. Your mind and body are doing what must be done to help you to adjust to a life without your loved one. And depression is an important part of that process.
We never really get over the loss of a loved one. Acceptance is the last in the 5 stages of grief. Acceptance is about coming to the realisation that your loved one has gone forever and that this is your new, permanent reality. We may never like our new reality, but we can, over time, learn to accept it. From an emotional point of view, we accept that our loved one has gone. We might resist our new reality for a time, but there will probably be snippets of time when we realise that things are different.
And eventually, we reach an understanding that roles need to change, and that other people need to help to fill the gaps. Not to replace your loved one, but be part of your acceptance that things have changed and that you and your life must change to a degree to cope with your new reality.
That doesn’t mean that you are betraying the memory of your loved one. And this is where you might discover that the 5 stages of grief aren’t quite as simple as working through each one in order. You might feel some denial, or anger at this stage, fleeting possibly. So the stages can manifest in any order, at any time. How you learn to cope with them is important, and how you manage to work through the grieving process to accept your new reality.
Transforming Grief: from Tragedy Emerges Hope
In Gavin Perrett’s book, “Transforming Grief: from Tragedy Emerges Hope”, Gavin describes the tragic loss of his parents within weeks of each other at the height of the Covid pandemic. He describes how he has worked through the grieving process and the strategies that he has used to reach acceptance of his new reality of life without his parents.
Launched in Autumn 2021, Gavin penned his book as a way to share his own experiences, and to help his own healing process. But also in the hope that it could, in some way, reach out to people who have shared similar tragic circumstances, and let them know that they are not alone. Read more here
“The grieving process can be hard to accept. By understanding how universally challenging this process is, I hope that you can feel that you are not alone and are among many who share similar fears and anxieties to you.” Gavin Perrett, extract from Transforming Grief: from tragedy emerges hope.
Read an extract from Transforming Grief:from Tragedy Emerges Hope
In his book, Gavin examines the 5 stages of grief from a very personal perspective, taking each stage at a time and embracing the process so that, despite the tragic loss of his parents, he was able to accept his tragedy.
This extract is taken from Chapter 1: My Childhood & Family History. In his book, Transforming Grief: From Tragedy Emerges Hope, Gavin describes in detail his parents and parenting, their roots, how they met, and his own early life with his parents and brother growing up.
“Bizarrely, so much good has emerged as a result of this tragedy, and I have evolved and grown as a person. In essence, I learned not just to bounce back: I learned how to bounce forward.” Gavin Perrett
Are there 5 or 7 stages of grief?
We’ve looked at grief and how different people will go through the grief journey in different ways. So there are no right or wrong answers. The stages that we have described here were developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 20th Century, and the concepts developed by her have been adapted and extended over the years. many scientists believe that there is still some debate to have, but that people who are grieving do go through a series of stages.
The key is to understand that your own journey through grief will be unique to you. You will experience the emotions that we have discussed in this article in your own way, at your own pace, and in your own order. But allowing yourself to grieve and reach an ultimate acceptance of your new situation without your loved one will allow you to “bounce forward.”