Guidance through the 5 Stages of Grief
Denial is the first of the five stages of grief.
The first stage is one of shock and denial, it helps us to navigate through accepting the loss. It helps
us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no
sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go
on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. We shut down as it feels
surreal. Like we are in a cocoon. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial
helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as
much as we can handle. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are
unknowingly beginning the healing process. You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to
fade. But as you proceed, all the feelings you were denying begin to surface.
Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process.
Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it
will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. There are many other emotions under the anger and
you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that
anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your
loved one who died, but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this? Underneath anger is pain,
your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger
is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first grief
feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person
who didn’t attend the funeral, maybe a person who isn’t around, maybe a person who is different now
that your loved one has died. Suddenly you have a structure – your anger toward them. The anger
becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and
a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing. We usually know more about
suppressing anger than feeling it. The anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love.
Bargaining, this is one, some of us know extremely well!!
You will offer to give up everything you own in order for your loved one to remain here and get well.
You bargain, I will never get angry again, I will give up belongings, I will even devote the rest of my
life to assisting others. There is a lot of What if and if only’s. We are quite hard on ourselves for not
doing this or doing that. Not being there enough, I would do everything different if I had this time
over again. Feeling guilty is often bargaining’s companion, and is very normal through this process.
They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in
and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion.
We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.
After the bargaining stage our attention moves into the every day.
Feeling empty presents itself, and grief settles into our lives on a deeper lever, deeper than we
every imagined. This depressive stage feels like it will last forever. Depression is not a sign of
mental illness, it’s quite an appropriate response to losing a loved one. We withdraw from life,
cocoon ourselves, shut down and look out at the world through a different filter. To not experience
depression after a loved one dies would be unusual. When a loss fully settles in your soul, the
realization that your loved one didn’t get better this time and is not coming back is understandably
depressing. Talking and having the support of community, family and friends can be very helpful in
the process of healing and acceptance. Depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way.
As we are slowing coming to terms with our loss, acceptance is often seen as being “ok” or “I’m
alright”, actually, this is not the case. Most people are not dealing with the new normal and everyday
tasks very well. This stage is coming to the realization that our loved one is physically gone forever
and are never coming back. The void they leave is never filled. They are constantly missed. We
learn to live with it. We must try to live in the now. In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance,
however, we see that we cannot maintain the past. It has been forever changed and we must readjust.
We must learn to reorganize and adjust our lives. Finding acceptance may be just having more good
days than bad ones. As we begin to live again and enjoy our life, we often feel that in doing so, we are
betraying our loved one. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections
and new meaningful relationships. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move,
we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their
lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but
we cannot do so until we have given grief its time. There are no boundaries or time frame with grief,
we learn to manage our grief better with time. Time can be and is a beautiful healer.