The 5 stages of grief and loss
our 1st bereavement article
The 5 stages of grief and loss are:
1. Denial and isolation
You might not go through any of these – or you may experience all of them, but in a different order. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve.
Denial and Isolation
The first reaction to learning about the death of a loved one is to deny that it’s real. You might think: “this isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,”. This is a normal reaction to rationalise the sometimes overwhelming emotions. It is a natural defence mechanism that softens the immediate shock of the loss. You might block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that will carry you through the first wave of pain.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to fade, reality and pain re-emerge. We are not ready for our loved one to have left us. The intense emotion that we feel is expressed as anger. The anger may be aimed at objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at your deceased loved one. Rationally, you know that the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, you may resent the person for causing you pain or for dying. You will likely feel guilty for being angry, which can make you even angrier. This is ok – it’s a normal reaction.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control:
- If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
- If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
- If only they hadn’t driven that morning…
- If only I’d stopped them leaving the house...
- If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
- If only I’d listened more...
- If only I had been there for their last moments…
Secretly you may try and make a deal with God or a higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable.
Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. You might worry about the costs and burial. You might worry that, in your grief, you have spent less time with others that depend on you. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. You may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.
The second type of depression is subtler and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is your quiet preparation to separate and to bid your loved one farewell. Sometimes all you really need is a hug, or a good cry.
Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or you may never see beyond your anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny yourself the opportunity to make your peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You may want to cry, shout and scream, or you may want to hide under your duvet and not see anyone for a while. There are no rules. There are no time limits. You can miss them and grieve them for as long as you need, and in your own way.