From denial to acceptance, there are seven stages in the grieving process, although it’s important to remember that everyone will grieve in their own unique way. Some might go through the stages out of order, while others might spend more time in one stage and less in another. People could experience multiple stages at the same time. There is no single road map to acceptance, but the seven stages of grief offer a valuable outline of what a person can expect to feel when experiencing a loss.
It’s common for a person to react with disbelief upon learning of the loss of a loved one. Denial is a way to protect oneself from the extreme pain and trauma caused by loss. It allows a person space to process their grief, which can be too overwhelming to take in all at once. However, if a person finds themselves unable to move through their denial, they may need to seek help from a mental health professional.
- Avoidance and Grief: In this article, Scott Cormode of Fuller Seminary takes a faith-based perspective, outlining how religious leaders can help their followers to stop avoiding the facts of their grief.
- Grieving Process of Youth in Care: The New York Office of Children and Family Services looks at the stages of grief in the context of children dealing with a traumatic situation.
- Can Grief and Loss Be Traumatic? Mental health professionals recognize that if a person doesn’t allow themselves to experience their grief, it can linger indefinitely.
- Denial: When it Helps and When it Hurts: The Mayo Clinic staff writes about understanding denial as a coping mechanism on this page.
- Mourning the Death of a Spouse: The National Institute on Aging offers advice on coping with the loss of a spouse, starting with coming to grips with the loss.
Pain and Guilt
Once a person successfully moves through denial, reality sets in, allowing them to experience the pain of the loss. Although it might feel like too much to handle, pain is an important part of grief. A grieving person might try to numb themselves through the abuse of alcohol, drugs, or other vices. But eventually, they will have to come to terms with the reality that there is no escaping the pain.
In this phase of the grieving process, it’s also common to feel guilt. A person might wonder what more they could’ve done while their loved one was alive, either to express their love, to make the person happier, or even to prevent the person from dying.
- Death of Love Ones Causes Mixed Emotions: This Marine Corps article highlights the emotions that can accompany grief.
- Alcohol and Grief: Sometimes, the pain of grief can drive people to substance abuse as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
- After an Attempt: In this brochure, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers advice on how to take care of a loved one who has attempted suicide and cope with the complicated feelings that can surround this situation.
- Types of Guilt: The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors defines the different types of guilt associated with grief.
- Relief and Guilt at Caregiving’s End: This article is written for caregivers who feel relief after the death of the person they were caring for, which can lead to guilt.
Anger and Bargaining
Anger is a common reaction to pain. At this stage in the grieving process, it’s healthy to allow oneself to feel anger. But one mustn’t let their anger become a destructive force in their life. This may happen if a person blames others for someone’s death. Such behavior is counterproductive to the grieving process.
In addition to anger, bargaining is common. At this stage, people may try and bargain with a higher power to bring back their loved one. Bargaining is a futile form of hope.
- Guilt, Blame, and Forgiveness: The Alliance of Hope writes about how people often feel frustration and anger toward others who they believe may have contributed to a loved one’s suicide.
- Knowing the Connection Between Anger and Grief: Crossroads Hospice takes a look at how grief and anger can be linked.
- Grief and Bereavement: The stages of grief are outlined by the American Cancer Society.
- Coping With the Death of Your Pet: The Humane Society has advice on coping with the grief of losing a pet.
- Five Ways to Cope When a Loved One Dies: Teens may want to try these five positive ways to deal with the loss of a loved one.
Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness
Once a person moves through pain, guilt, and anger, the loss will settle in and they’ll enter a period of depression. During this time, a person often chooses to take some time alone to reflect upon their loss. It’s normal for friends and family to try to lift a grieving person’s spirits. But just like with pain, trying to escape or avoid this depression is not healthy. A person should accept and experience this period of reflection.
- Helping Someone Who Is Grieving: HelpGuide offers advice on how you can help someone else deal with their grief.
- Ways to Support Someone Who Is Grieving: Harvard Health Publishing explains the importance of just listening to a grieving friend, as opposed to offering them solutions.
- Recovery From Grief Requires More Than Grieving: This essay, published by Stanford University, suggests that one should be careful not to dwell excessively on the negative emotions caused by loss.
- Grief or Clinical Depression? This article attempts to make the important distinction between normal grief and clinical depression.
- Bereavement: The Royal College of Psychiatrists offers a guide to the bereavement process here.
The Upward Turn
It may feel like it will never happen, but once a person’s depression begins to lift, they will enter into the upward turn phase of the grieving process. At this point, a grieving person’s every thought will no longer be dominated by their loss. A sense of organization will return to their lives as they start to see, for the first time, how it is possible to move past the loss.
- Turning Your Grief Into Creativity: Advice on how to cope with grief through creativity is given from the Baha’i perspective here.
- The Grief of a Special-Needs Parent: The mother of a child with special needs tells readers what the stages of grief look like through her eyes.
- The Upward Turn: A Penn State student who lost her father to pancreatic cancer shares her personal experiences with the upward turn stage of grief.
- Grief After Stroke: The grieving process is not exclusive to people who have lost loved ones. In this article, the National Stroke Foundation guides stroke victims through the stages of grief.
- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Learn more about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who pioneered the stages of grief in her bestseller On Death and Dying.
Reconstruction and Working Through
The time will come when a grieving person’s mind will start to function like it did before their loss. This is when they will be ready to begin reconstructing their lives. The financial and practical problems of everyday life without their loved one will feel less daunting, and they will be clearheaded enough to come up with realistic solutions.
- The Grief of Parents: The Compassionate Friends is an organization that offers support to families after a child dies. This article offers their advice to a grieving parent.
- Death of a Spouse: This guide highlights the financial steps to take after the death of a spouse.
- Camp Erin: Camp Erin is a bereavement program for children and teens who have experienced the loss of a significant person in their lives.
- Bereavement for Military Families and Communities: Mental Health America has created this resource for bereaved military families and communities.
- Grieving: Facing Illness, Death, and Other Losses: This article offers information on the grief process and a list of questions a grieving person may want to ask their doctor.
Acceptance and Hope
In the last stage of the grieving process, a person is able to fully accept their loss. Their new reality no longer seems so impossibly painful. This is not to say that there won’t be lingering sadness: There will always be sadness surrounding their loss. But once a person reaches the acceptance stage, they will see how it is possible to return to a joyful life.
- When Is it Time to Get Help? Befrienders Worldwide is a network offering help and support to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide. This page lists examples of when a person should consider seeking help to cope with their grief.
- Grief and Loss: Here, you can learn more about the different types of loss and the grief that can accompany them.
- Grieving the Loss of a Child: This article discusses the marital stress that can come with the loss of a child.
Content approved by Jerry Parker