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Stages of Grief

QUESTION: What are the stages of grief?


The stages of grief and loss are the typical emotions associated with grief. They are not a means of tidying up the process of mourning. They are not a way to tell us how to feel after losing someone we love. They are simply a way to identify feelings as we learn to live without someone. It is important to remember that grief is unique to each person and loss, grief, and mourning look differently for each of us.
  • Loss is being without someone or something we value and treasure.
  • Grief is the cluster of confusion, feelings, thoughts, and longings caused by loss.
  • Mourning is getting what’s on the inside out. This often happens through funerals, crying, journaling, visiting a grave, scrapbooking, talking it out with a friend or a group.

Listed below are some common, universal stages of grief and loss. People may not progress through the stages in this order and may experience a stage more than once.
    Shock and Panic – “Is this happening to me?” Shock and panic are our initial response and often comes with feelings of being overwhelmed. We might be stunned, numb, and have difficulty making decisions.

    Denial* – “No, this can’t be happening to me! There must be some mistake!” This stage is a conscious or unconscious denial of facts or the reality of the situation. It is a defense mechanism until we are ready to being accepting the loss.

    Anger* – “Why me?” This emotion is sometimes aimed at God, doctors, caregivers, family, the one who died, and maybe even aimed at ourselves. It is the natural response to feeling powerless to change the situation or feeling abandoned by the one we lost.

    Bargaining* – “God, I promise, if you will just _____ for me, I swear I will ______” This stage is common for those whose loved one is suffering a life-threatening illness or injury.

    False Guilt – “If only…” “I should have...” “Why didn’t I …?” We might be upset with ourselves for saying hurtful things, not spending time with someone, not showing kindness, etc. Or we might think we could have somehow prevented the loss.

    Depression* – “Why go on?” Loneliness, self-pity, and isolation are emotional drainers that can cause depression. Grief is entering our lives in a deeper level and it is important to remember that this is a normal response to loss.

    Acceptance* – “I can’t deny it any longer; it really did happen to me.” Feeling this way doesn’t mean that everything is now okay. It is a realization and acceptance that we much adapt to life without our loved one. We must learn to adjust to a new normal.

    Hope and Healing – “I’ll survive. It was really tough, but I’m going to make it.’’ Through the support of those around us and having time for emotional healing, we regain hope. We seek to refocus on the “better” instead of becoming “bitter.”

Stages of Grief and Loss – A Word from Survivors
Those who have gone through the loss of a loved one have submitted some helpful tips for going through the process of grief and accepting the reality of the loss:

  • Allow yourself to experience the pain of grief.
  • Do your best to adjust to an environment where the deceased is missing.
  • Take the emotional energy you would have spent on the one who died and invest it in a friend or a cause that interests you. This honors their memory.
  • Give up your demand to understand it completely; you never will.
  • Realize that God doesn't change because your circumstances change. God still loves you and always will.
  • Stay connected to your family and friends. We all need human touch. Find a small group or an accepting, non-judgmental friend who will meet you regularly for coffee, lunch, prayer, etc. We also highly recommend Grief Share support groups and the resources available on their site.
While all these skills are helpful, the ultimate healing is found in a Person. Take your troubles to God. He understands. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

*These are the stages most commonly associated with grief and loss.

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