When you’re grieving, it’s essential to be patient with yourself and grieve at your own pace. Understanding the common stages of grief can provide some guidance through the process. But the stages aren’t linear or predictable—they are simply guides. Honor what feels right for you as you learn to integrate your loss and continue living.
The Five Stages of Grief
The five stages of grief are:
These stages were first introduced in 1969 by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. The stages represent common emotions people tend to experience after a loss. But the grieving process is unique to each person. You may not experience every stage, and you might revisit stages as you adjust to life without your loved one.
Denial is often the first reaction to loss. You may feel shock or numbness and be unable to accept the reality of the loss. Denial can act as a buffer in the early days of grieving, allowing you to slowly absorb the news. This stage may involve Avoiding places, people, or situations that remind you of your loved one or Make you feel emotional. Denial helps create a sense of disbelief that insulates you from the harshest emotions. But staying stuck in denial can impair your ability to heal.
As denial fades, grief often turns to anger. You may feel irritation towards your lost loved one, friends, family, doctors, yourself, or even towards God. Questioning why this happened is natural. Anger can also manifest as resentment over the changes in your life due to the loss. Expressing anger in healthy ways, like exercise or writing in a journal, can help it subside. Suppressing anger often backfires, leading to more intense feelings later on.
In this stage, people often hold onto a sense of guilt, thinking “if only” they did something differently, their loved one would still be alive. You may bargain with a higher power or with yourself, promising to behave a certain way in exchange for just a little more time with your loved one. Of course, bargaining does not change the reality of the loss. But it can represent the wishful thinking that often occurs when we want to regain control over a situation.
As the initial shock wears off, the loss truly settles in. This can plunge you into a state of depression. Signs include deep sadness, lack of energy, changes in sleep and appetite, loss of interest in activities, and social withdrawal. Crying often eases some of the emotional pressure of this stage. These feelings can come in waves—you may start feeling better only to plunge back into sadness. This is normal—be patient and take each day at a time.
With time and support, an awakening often dawns where you come to accept the reality of the loss. This stage brings gradual reengagement with life. You begin to look to the future again with renewed hope and purpose. Feelings of sadness may linger, but with less intensity. Acceptance signifies adapting to life without your loved one and treasuring their memory while reinvesting in meaningful activities.
Grieving at Your Own Pace
The stages provide a loose framework, but grieving does not follow a linear progression. You may move back and forth between stages or skip some entirely. There is no set timeframe—allow your grief to unfold at its own pace. Some tips:
- Give yourself permission to grieve openly. Releasing emotions helps prevent getting stuck.
- Try creative outlets like journaling, art, or music to express your grief.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Lean on loved ones and support groups.
- Embrace distractions when you need a break from grieving. It’s okay to laugh and feel joy amidst grief.
- Watch for prolonged intense depression and get professional help if needed.
- Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you integrate this loss into your life.
Remember, grieving is not about “letting go” as quickly as possible. It’s about finding your own way to hold onto your cherished person’s memory while learning to live your life without their physical presence. There will always be times when the pain of their absence comes flooding back. With time, you gain skills to better weather these grief bursts. The journey brings gradual healing and hope.
If you’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one, please accept heartfelt condolences for your loss. The road ahead will have ups and downs, but you don’t need to walk it alone. Be kind to yourself as you process through your grief. Let the stages serve as a flexible guide, not a rigid map. There is no perfect way to grieve—listen to your heart and move at your own pace. With time and support, you can work through your grief and begin discovering meaning in life once more. You’ll always carry the imprint of this precious person who meant so much to you. May their memory forever be a blessing.