Stages of Grief

Grief comes in stages and a lot of people will talk about the stages of grief.  Not everyone will experience every stage of grief.  Some might just experience one or two stages, while others will keeping going through the cycle.  Others seems to recover from grief much easier and faster, while others it may take years.  The most common stages of grief are, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial is considered the first stage of grief.  Denial helps us to be able to survive the loss.  In this stage, your world becomes meaningless and overwhelming.  Your life doesn't make sense anymore.  You have entered into a state of shock and denial.  You go numb, you wonder how you can go on, if you can go on and why should you want to go on.  You try to find a way to simply get through each day.  Denial and shock help you to be able to cope and make survival possible.  Denial helps you to pace your feelings of grief.  There is a grace in denial, as it is natures way of letting in only as much as you can handle.  As you begin to accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are beginning the healing process.  You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade.  But as you begin to proceed, just remember that all of the feelings you were denying will begin to surface.  

Anger is considered to be the second stage of grief.  Anger is considered to be a necessary stage of the healing process.  You need to be willing to feel your anger, even though ti may seem like it will never end.  The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and you can heal.  There are many emotions that are under the anger, and you will go through them all in time.  But anger is the is the emotion we are most used to being able to manage.  The honest truth is that anger has no limits.  It can extend to just your friends and family or beyond like to your doctor, yourself, your loved one who has died or even to God.  You may ask, "Where is God in all of this?"  Underneath all of that anger is your pain.  It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but you also live in a society that fears anger.  Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss.  At first grief feels like you are lost at sea, having no connection to anything or anyone.  Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person who didn't attend the funeral, a person who isn't around, a person who is different now that your loved one has died, or a complete stranger because they looked at you the wrong way.  Suddenly you have a structure, your anger towards them.  The anger becomes a bridge over the open seas, a connection from you to them.  It is something to hold onto; a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing at all.  You usually know more about suppressing anger than feeling it.  Just remember the anger is just another indication of the intensity of your love you had for that person.  

Bargaining is considered to be the third stage of grief.  Sometimes you begin bargaining before someone has died, because they are ill.  You begin saying things like, "I'll be good, if you just let them live."  Though after loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce.  You may say things like, "What if I devote my life to helping others, and then I can wake up and this will have been nothing but a nightmare."  You become lost in a maze of if only or what if statements.  You want life to be returned to what it once was.  You want your loved one to be alive and well.  You want to be able to go back in tine to ensure the illness was spotted more quickly, to not leave them alone, to stay longer, or anything else.  Guilt is often bargaining companion, as the if only's and what ifs cause you to find the fault in yourself and you think that you could have done something differently to prevent your loved one from dying.  You may even bargain with the pain, that you would do anything not to feel the pain of your loss.  You remain in the past, trying to negotiate your way out of the hurt.   

Depression is considered to be the fourth stage of grief.  Once you are done with bargaining, you attention is moved into the present.  Empty feelings will begin to present themselves and grief will enter your life on a deeper level, deeper that you can ever imagine.  This depressive stage will feel as though it will last forever.  It is important to understand that this depression is not a sign of a mental illness.  This depression comes from the loss of a loved one.  It is the appropriate response to a great loss.  You will withdraw from life and be left in a fog of intense sadness, and wondering if there is any point in going on alone or why go on at all.  Depression after loss is too often seen as being unnatural: a state to be fixed or something you need to snap out of.  The first question that you should ask yourself is whether or not the situation you are in is actually depressing.  The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation and depression is a normal and very appropriate response.  To not experience depression  after a loved one dies would be unusual.  When the loss fully settles into your soul, the realization that you loved one didn't get better 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.  

Acceptance is considered to be the fifth stage of grief.  Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being okay or all right with what has happened.  This is false.  Most people don't ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one.  This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing your new reality is permanent.  You will never ever like this reality or make it okay, but eventually you will have to accept it.  You will learn to live with it.  It is the new norm with which you must learn to live.  You must try to live now in a world where your loved one is missing.  In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one has died.  However in tie, you begin to realize that you cannot maintain the past intact.  It has been forever changed and you have to readjust.  You have to being to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others or take them on for yourself.  Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones.  As you begin to live again and enjoy your life, you will often feel that in doing so, you are betraying your loved one.  You can never replace what has been lost, but you can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, new inter-dependencies.  Instead of denying your feelings, you need to listen to your needs, you move, you change, you grow, you evolve.  You may start to reach out to others, and become involved in their lives.  you invest in your friendships and in your relationships.  You begin to live again, but you cannot do so until you have given grief its time.  

A thing to remember is that people will often think of the stages of grief lasting weeks or months.  They tend to forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes, or hours as you flip in and out of one and then onto another.  You do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion.  You may feel one, then another and then back again to the first one.  Just remember it is normal.  


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