Grief is a universal human experience that accompanies the loss of a loved one. Whilst everyone's experience is different, thinking about grief in a structured way can help us see light at the end of the tunnel and articulate these challenging feelings.
With this goal of validation and guidance in mind, psychologists have formalised grief into 5 common stages- including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Understanding these stages and the healing process they represent can provide insights, strategies, and support to help you navigate your own personal journey, or help you provide support to a loved one going through it.
Grief is a natural and complex emotional response to loss, particularly the loss of a loved one. Encompassing a range of emotions, such as sadness, anger, confusion, and disbelief, grief stages affect everyone differently and can be expressed physically and emotionally.
Whilst a grief framework can be useful, it’s also worth noting that this experience is not linear and looks different for person to person, and loss to loss.
Yes, everyone is different. But understanding grief stages can provide valuable insights for all, and support for individuals during this emotional journey.
The grief stages framework can also serve as an important reminder that grief is a normal response to loss, and is never permanent. Having a framework to relate emotions to can help individuals validate and express their complex, as well as feel reassured that they are not alone in their experience.
In what can often be quite an isolating journey, this reassurance can be invaluable in helping someone get through. Framed in stages, the grief framework can also help remind people that their current emotional experience is not permanent.
Denial is often the first stage of grief, serving as a defence mechanism that protects individuals from the initial shock and overwhelming reality of loss. During this stage, individuals may struggle to accept or comprehend the loss, leading to a temporary sense of disbelief and detachment. Denial can manifest in various ways, including:
Emotional Numbness: Individuals may experience a numbing of emotions as a means of self-preservation, allowing them to temporarily disconnect from the pain of the loss.
Minimising or Ignoring the Loss: Some individuals may downplay the significance of the loss or try to avoid acknowledging it altogether, refusing to believe that it has occurred.
Seeking Normalcy: Engaging in routines and activities as if nothing has changed is another common manifestation of denial. This behaviour aims to create a sense of normalcy and protect individuals from the overwhelming reality of the loss.
The anger stage is a common response to grief, characterised by feelings of frustration, resentment, and a sense of injustice. Whilst anger is a normal and healthy expression of the pain and helplessness experienced during the grieving process, it’s important to recognize and validate these feelings to get through them.
Seeing them as a natural part of the grieving process can help you express this anger in a healthy and constructive manner, instead of lashing out unintentionally. This recognition can help you find healthy outlets to express your anger; such as physical activities, writing in a journal, or talking to a trusted friend or therapist.
Practising self compassion, seeking support and exploring mindfulness can also be constructive ways to navigate this stage of grief.
The bargaining stage involves attempting to negotiate or make deals in an effort to undo the loss or alleviate the pain. This can manifest as efforts to regain control and make sense of the loss, including "what-if" or "if only" thoughts.
Whilst these thoughts are a normal part of grief, it’s important to avoid self-judgement and criticism at this stage. Embracing realistic expectations, focusing on the present and connecting with others for support can help you navigate these emotions. Similarly, focusing on acceptance rather than diminishing the significance of your loss can provide a long term, constructive strategy for coping at this time.
The depression stage is characterised by a deep sense of sadness, emptiness, and profound grief. These negative emotions can feel overwhelming, however it’s important to give yourself time to process and feel them at this stage.
At this time, it’s also important to seek support from loved ones, support groups, or a therapist who can provide comfort and understanding during this time. Sharing your feelings with others who can empathise can alleviate the weight of your sadness, and help provide self-care strategies for emotional well-being.
Things like honouring your loved ones memories through creating tributes, looking after yourself and seeking professional help can also help you see light at the end of this tunnel.
It’s important to note that acceptance doesn’t mean forgetting or getting over a loss. Rather, this stage is about coming to terms with the reality of your loss, and finding a new sense of normalcy.
Finding ways forward whilst still feeling grief, and allowing yourself permission to move on with life, are all part of this stage. This can mark an important time for self reflection- thinking about how your loss has changed your perspective, and how you want to allow your loved one to impact you going forward.
Whilst this can put a positive slant on your experience, it’s also important to maintain connections with your support network and consider reaching out to others who may be going through the same. For many, sharing their story and supporting others can be one way to find positivity and meaning in pain.
Keeping up with self-care and support can also help you get through innevitable bad days, as well as move forward with time.
The duration of each stage of grief varies widely from person to person. There is no predetermined timeline for grieving, and there's no set time for each stage.
Similarly, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone's journey is unique. Some people move through the stages relatively quickly, while others may spend more time in certain stages or revisit them intermittently.
Giving yourself time and space to fully process and heal from loss is important for everyone. This isn’t the time for deadlines or harsh expectations, and regardless of grief stages it's important to have self-compassion.
During the grieving process, seeking support from others can be immensely helpful. Various grief support options are available to provide comfort, guidance, and understanding.
Support groups, both in-person and online, also offer unique spaces to connect and share with others who have experienced loss. This sense of community and empathy can be invaluable at this time, and can help you navigate the complexities of grief with the support of others doing the same.
Leaning on friends and family members can also be important at this time- with the temptation to isolate not always the best idea.
Safewill’s team of compassionate experts are here to help, just when you need it most.
We believe no grieving family should be left with the stress of paperwork, or priced out from support during grief.
So, whether it's writing your Will, or going through probate for a loved one, reach out to one of our team today for specialist support which won’t break the bank.