Steps of Grief after Loss and Bereavement
Knowing the grief cycle is like having a map to effectively guide you through what can be a life-shattering experience.
The road to grief recovery can be long and difficult but it will be the purest pain you feel and can be your greatest teacher – if you let it.
At some point in our lives, each of us faces the loss of someone or something dear to us....
Just think back on the natural disasters of the previous months and the loss and bereavement experienced...
The grief that follows such a loss can seem unbearable, but grief is actually a healing process.
This grief cycle applies to all loss - loss of any kind - such as caused by crime and punishment, job loss, disability and injury, enforced relocation, relationship break-up, financial despair.
It is actually a 'plan' for helping you to understand and deal with (and counsel) personal reaction to trauma.
What are the grief cycle stages?
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified and explained the stages of grief - I highly recommend that you get a copy of her book -
On Death and Dying - for yourself.
Grieving starts with recognizing a loss and continues until you eventually accept that loss.
You may not experience all of these stages of grief, and you may not experience them in this order, but it is important to realize that what you are feeling is natural and that, with time, you will heal.
The Grief Cycle
- Denial/ Shock/ Isolation
Some people experience shock after a loss, saying things like “I feel numb” and display no tears or emotions. Sometimes there isdenial – “This cannot be happening to me!” , “I don’t deserve this!” Gradually you become aware of what has happened, and are able to express your emotions. Other people never go through a prolonged stage of shock. They are able to express emotions immediately. You may also withdraw from your usual social contacts.
This whole stage of the grief cycle may last a few moments, or longer.
You may find yourself getting angry in situations that previously would not have bothered you. These feelings can be shocking and very uncomfortable. These feelings of anger can make you feel that you are going crazy but are part of the grief cycle. Anger can be directed at the doctor, the nurse, God, sometimes even at your loved one who died.
Anger and hostility are normal. Do not suppress your anger. What is important is that you understand and direct your anger towards what you are really angry at, namely the loss.
In this stage, you may make bargains with God/the universe/whoever, asking, "If I do this, will you take away the loss?". You want life returned to what is was and can become stuck in a maze of “If only...” and “What if...” You want to go back in time... if only, if only, if only.
Guilt often accompanies bargaining. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. Bargaining keeps you in the past as you try to negotiate your way out of the hurt. You need to get past this stage of the grief cycle and move on.
After bargaining, your attention moves into the present. Empty feelings and grief enters your life on a deep level, deeper than you ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever.
You feel numb, although you may feel angry and sad underneath. You may feel total despair, unbearable loneliness and hopelessness; nothing seems worthwhile. People who live alone can feel this more intensely than those who have a family.
These feelings are normal and should , with time, also pass.
David Kessler at Grief gives a very nice explanation -
"It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone? Why go on at all? Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of. The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually depressing. The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. 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. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way."
Sometimes this grief cycle stage is confused with being ‘all right’ or ‘okay’ with your loss. This is not so. This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have lessened...You simply accept the reality of the loss.
This comes gradually by recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. You will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually you accept it. You learn to live with it. You must try to live now in a world where your loved one is missing. It is the new norm. You begin to get on with life. It’s hard to believe now, but you will feel better.
"We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, new inter-dependencies. 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."
Things To Remember When Dealing With Grief
- Grief is a natural process to death and dying and loss. It is not pathological in nature. It is a necessary response to help us heal from the overwhelming sense of loss.
- Expect your emotions to be raw, your world feels shattered and the different steps of grief can overtake you in the most unexpected ways. Remember, we are all different and need to handle our grief in our own way.
- Don’t feel pressured to hide or deny your emotions - to ‘put on a brave face.’ The more we can give physical expression to our emotions, the sooner we will move on.
- People sometimes think of the grief cycle as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages of grief are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as you flip in and out of one and then another. You do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. You may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.
- Understanding the grief cycle helps us relate to how a grieving person feels. We can then be empathetic and supportive. There is little else we can do to to help. The grieving person is simply going to have to work their own way through the steps of grief on their own.
- Good self-care habits help grieving and its stresses pass more quickly. Remember to eat a balanced diet, drink enough non-alcoholic fluids, get enough exercise and rest.
- It helps to have a close circle of family or friends. They cannot remove or hasten the grieving but can offer support and continuity to our otherwise chaotic world. Nurture your friendships and other relationships.
- If we move through the grief cycle stages then we can say the grieving process is normal. But we could get "stuck" in one of the stages of grief, and could spend the rest of our lives there. Often when a person cannot get past one of the stages of grief, they may end up being diagnosed with depression. This is where counselling is necessary to help them move on.
On Death and Dying
Dr. Kübler-Ross explores the five grief cycle stages: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through sample interviews and conversations, she gives the reader a better understanding of how imminent death affects the patient, the professionals who serve that patient, and the patient's family, bringing hope to all who are involved.
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
Before her own death in 2004, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler completed On Grief and Grieving, which looks at the way we experience the process of grief.
Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief
For those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, here are strength and thoughtful words to inspire and comfort.
Go from Grief Cycle to Bereavement Stress
Go to DIY Stress Relief Home