The Five Stages of Grief and Loss

At some point and time in everyone’s life they will deal with some form of grief and/or loss. It may come through the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a loss of health, or the loss of a spouse through divorce. Whatever it is the person has lost there are five stages that Kubler-Ross has identified as being common to all people. These five stages outline the feelings and emotions that nearly every person dealing with loss will incur at some point. The five stages are:

• Denial
• Anger
• Bargaining
• Depression
• Acceptance

The first stage is denial. This is the initial reaction a person has when they first lose something or someone. In this stage the person is in a sort of shock. They have a difficult time realizing that what is happening to them is actually happening. The common reaction a person has during this stage is that of, “This is not happening to me!” I can remember the morning I was told that my father had passed away that I had this initial reaction. I was awakened at 5am to be told that my father had passed away just an hour before from an apparent heart attack. I can still remember thinking to myself, “This cannot be true!” When a person is in this stage they are using their built-in self defense mechanisms in order to initially deal with the issue at hand. It is easier for a person to believe that what they are hearing or seeing is simply not true, instead of accepting it as fact. A person will more than likely not stay in this stage as long as the other stages, but this is not always the case.

The next stage of grief and loss is that of anger. The initial reaction of, “This cannot be real!” is turned into, “Why is this happening?” Once we have accepted that whatever loss we just incurred is real, we often then become angry about it being real. After my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time in her life, she spoke about how angry it made her. She told me that she could not understand how God could allow her to be diagnosed with breast cancer for a third time. For my mother, her anger was mainly toward God and questioning Him as to why. For others this anger may be toward a spouse who has cheated, an ex-boss who just fired them, or society in general. Becoming angry is just another self-defense mechanism we use in order to avoid fully accepting what has happened. We want to divert our attention and focus to someone or something else in order to be able to deflect the pain. This leads us into the next stage of grief and loss.

The stage following anger is that of bargaining. In this stage a person finds themselves trying to make deals in order to change the outcome they are avoiding having to deal with. After my now ex-wife left me I can remember trying to make deals with God if He would just let her come back to me. In my mind I was willing to do anything in order to have my wife back and to avoid losing my family. I had gone through the denial stage and the anger, but now I just wanted to get back what I had lost. There are times when a person will reach this stage and revert back to the anger stage. This happens when they do not receive the deal they are wishing and begging for. Typically, however, even though a person may digress backward, when they once again are ready to move past the anger they typically skip over the bargaining stage and move onto the next one.

The fourth stage of grief and loss is depression. A person has overcome the initial shock, moved out of the anger stage and understands that bargaining is not going to bring back what they have lost. Now they are faced with the reality of having to fully face the loss. Once I had moved through the first three stages of grief and loss from my wife leaving, I became severely depressed. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not find joy in my life. Every thought and emotion I felt seemed to center on her leaving. The more I focused on the loss, the more depressed I became. This is perhaps the stage that people find themselves in for the longest period of time. The degree to which a person becomes depressed will vary. Someone may move through the all five stages quickly when they experience the loss of a job, but may linger in them when a death of someone they love dearly occurs. The extent of the loss and the type of loss often determines how long and how severe a person will be depressed. If depression becomes too severe, however, then professional counseling may be needed. The good news is that once a person begins to overcome the depression, they are on their way to the fifth and final stage.

The final stage of grief and loss is acceptance. This comes when the person finally accepts what has happened in their life and are willing to move forward. It does not mean that a person does not still grieve to some degree over what they have lost; I still grieve the loss of my father to an extent and always will. What it does mean is that the person is ready to not let the loss affect them in a negative way anymore. By accepting that you have lost something you are merely saying to yourself that it is not the end of the world. My mom has now completed her chemo and radiation treatment and has once again been pronounced cancer free. I have been divorced for over a year now and am looking at dating once again. Acceptance does not mean forgetting, but merely means you are moving forward with your life anyway.

Please understand that there is no set time limit to any of these stages. Do not feel as though you have to be at stage three by month four in order to be dealing in an appropriate way. Take your time and work through each stage at the rate you are comfortable. One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is to try and rush through the grief process. When this happens, a person will normally revert back to stage two and take even longer to fully overcome the loss. This goes for the people that are trying to counsel and help those going through these stages. Do not push someone just because you feel they are moving too slow. Understand that each person is an individual and because of that each person will take different amounts of time to move forward.

Please also understand that there is not always a clear cut stage you are in. You may be feeling depressed and have issues with anger still as well. You may be angry and still trying to bargain. The important thing is that you are working through your issues and attempting to reach a final resolve.

If you are suffering from loss know that you are not alone. Take solace in the fact that even though each of us may move at different speeds through the grief process, we all still go through it. If you feel to overwhelmed and unable to cope, please seek professional help. It is not shameful to get assistance to help you deal with life’s problems. Whatever you decide to do I wish you much luck and success in finally coming to the point of acceptance.