Outlined in Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s book On death and Dying, there are stages of grief. To begin with, there were five stages of grief, and more recently two more have been added. Here are the stages of grief.
Stage one is denial.
Stage two is anger.
Stage three is bargaining.
Stage four is depression.
Stage five is acceptance.
The additional two stages of grief that have most recently been included are: shock and testing.
Initially, upon hearing the news that someone close to you has died, this emotion is called shock. It is an initial paralysis. When one enters the stage of denial, it is a way of helping one to manage and cope with this new life they are entering. Some people say that it is an avoidance of coming to terms with the new reality that the person has died. I prefer not to see it is as avoidance, instead it is a difficulty in readjusting which is completely understandable. We are human beings at the end of the day and not robots who can turn on and off feelings.
Anger is an outpouring of bottled up feelings. It is experienced as a kind of venting out of rage. A client experiencing anger once told me, “how could they treat my father like that in the hospital?” She wanted to seek out justice, and I gently wondered with her if it was also about trying to make sense of what had happened. Anger is necessary and important that the person grieving is allowed to feel this powerful emotion, and not told that they are wrong or should not feel this way. I have heard many people question God while feeling anger. Examples of this could be, “I am not praying anymore; why pray to god after this?” It can appear subtly, but it can also be viewed as unexpressed anger.
Bargaining is when we think what we could have done differently, and often guilt appears at this stage. When the person was alive, we may have said, “God, I will do anything to keep them alive” in a kind of bargaining manner. Examples could be, “If I would have found the tumor before, she would still be alive.” We want to go back in time, fighting the reality as the pain of it is just too much to bear.
Depression is a final realization of the fact that the person has died. The grief appears on a deeper level in our hearts; it is felt more in the present tense. Depression is an appropriate response to a loss, so when others may tell you that you may be suffering with a mental illness, please be assured that you are not ill – you are grieving a loss.
Acceptance is not being OK with the loss. It is instead accepting that the person has died and will never come back. It is also where you can integrate the loss and move on with the person still a part of you. This is the stage of readjusting and finding a way to move forward knowing that the past won’t return. It is very painful as many people feel like they are letting the deceased down. An example of this is a client who asked me, “How can I go out on a date again now?” This was two years after her boyfriend died. She had conflicting feelings; on one hand she wanted to move on with a new life for herself and on the other hand felt disappointment in doing so.