A Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elizabeth Kubler-Ross changed the world by identifying and dividing the process of grief into five stages in 1969. Her observations came from years of working with terminally ill individuals. Since then, the process has expanded to include seven stages.
Shock and Denial. The first stage of grief is shock and denial. Especially if the loss is a surprise, you may react with disbelief or a denial of reality. This is important because it protects your emotions from being overwhelmed all at once, and this stage can last for weeks. In this stage, you may experience mourning, sadness, and confusion. Many lose their appetite and have reported a loss of time.
Pain and Guilt. The next stage is when the shock wears off and transcends into pain and guilt. The pain can feel unbearable, but you must go through it to heal from it. You also may feel guilty for still being alive or for things that transpired before your loss. During this stage, you may feel sadness, guilt, desperation, and betrayal. Expect sleepless nights and uncontrolled ruminating thoughts.
Anger and Bargaining. Eventually, frustration replaces the pain and guilt. It is natural to feel angry and lash out as you’re healing from your loss, but it is important to feel all of these emotions. You may also start questioning things and bring attention to wrong-doings. During this stage, emotions are externalized and bold. Major moments of anger, resentment, bargaining, outrage and stubbornness. Many in this stage displace their anger on those in their environment like service workers and get frustrated with the “red tape” of systems.
Depression. This stage of grief is where you fully realize the magnitude of what you have lost. You may want to isolate yourself on purpose and focus on memories of the past. This is a normal stage of grief, so it is important to acknowledge that you must feel these feelings. You may feel depressed, heavy, crushed, and hopeless during this stage. A loss of identity is expected and redefining your routine can be slow.
The Upward Turn. Finally, in this stage, things start to look up. Your life has started to adjust since your loss, and your physical symptoms will lessen. You will not feel as depressed as you did in the earlier stage. Instead, you may feel strengthened, motivated, and awakened.
Reconstruction. In this stage, you’re getting closer to the end of the tunnel, and your mind starts working again. You will begin seeking solutions to the problems presented from your loss, and you will start rebuilding yourself and your life. This can be a rough time, and you may backslide to earlier stages of grief, but this is also normal. In this stage of grief, you may experience inspiration and determination, and feel refreshed.
Acceptance and Hope. This is the last stage of grief, and it comes once you’ve accepted your loss and dealt with the reality of your situation. Keep in mind that acceptance doesn’t mean instant happiness, but at this point, you may feel hopeful of your future. In this final stage, you may feel hopeful, comforted, relaxed, and secure.
Tips for working through the stages of grief
One of the things to remember about grief is that you will bounce around in the stages. You will move forward and back as you work towards acceptance, and the major goal is not to get over your loss but to stay in the stage of acceptance longer than the others. One thing that can help with this stage is celebrating what you have rather than sitting and lingering on what you lost. Especially if you have lost loved ones, it’s important to remember that they live in our hearts and our memories forever.
Here are some ways to honor and celebrate the person you lost rather than focus on their death.
Plant a tree. One great way to honor your loved one is to plant a tree. Trees grow slowly, and if you plant the tree soon after your loss, the tree will grow as you heal. In the blink of an eye, what started as a small seed will be a huge and strong tree, and it can help you through the stages of grief.
Visit their gravesite. Grieving can be a long process, and even despite all of your tumultuous feelings, you should consider visiting their final resting place. You can bring flowers to pay respects. If your loved one was cremated and you scattered the ashes, you can visit the scattering site with your remaining loved ones.
Write to them. A unique way to honor someone you’ve lost is by writing to them. One of the hardest things to cope with is the loss of connection, and a way to ease this pain is by dedicating a journal to the person you lost, write to them, and jot down fond memories.
Donate to a cause. Donating to a cause your loved one was passionate about can be another way to honor them and still feel connected to them. You can make a donation in their name, or if funds are tight, you can donate your time rather than money.
Go to therapy. Finally, your loved one would not want you to struggle through the stages of grief. If you feel that you cannot cope with the emotions you’re facing, finding a grief therapist can give you the support you need to walk through all of the stages.
Many factors contibute and shape the way someone reacts to loss. Most people are able to work through the stages of grief, but when others struggle the symptoms of grief persists over an extended period of time (normally beyond a year) that person will benefit from grief counseling.
Inevitably, everyone will experience grief, whether it comes in the form of losing someone you love, losing a job, or ending an important relationship. The first stage of grief can be shock and denial, but as time goes on, you’ll move through all of the seven stages and come to acceptance.