There is no manual in life on coping with the loss of a loved one. You may feel overwhelming emotions, intense sadness, deep anger, or even complete confusion. Your natural response to loss and your grieving process is unique to you. People grieve differently, and there is no right or wrong way to approach it.
In this article, we’ll explore how the five stages of grief can help you navigate bereavement and look at other ways of coping with the loss of a loved one. We’ll also offer some tips on coping strategies and how to help a loved one deal with grief.
The Kübler-Ross Model
There is a grief model with five common stages called the Kübler-Ross Model. The model is based on peer-reviewed studies by the Swiss American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It was created for those struggling to deal with grief in their own way.
Learning about this model could help with understanding grief. It can also make self-care easier, which can help with the healing journey.
The Stages of Grief
According to the grief model, the five most common emotional reactions to loss are:
It’s important to note that the stages of grief are also relevant to other events in life. For example, it could also apply to terminally ill patients dealing with the reality of their own death approaching or people coping with the end of a close relationship.
Exploring the five stages of can help you to understand where you are in your grieving process and help you to find the best way for you to cope. It can also help you to better understand somebody else going through bereavement, terminal illness, or profound loss. Let’s look at the different stages and how each one may feel.
As a common defense mechanism, the denial stage is often the first response to loss. This is because it creates a preferable reality in which the loved one is not dead and still part of your life. It buffers the immediate shock of sudden death or loss.
If you are in this first stage of grief, you may imagine that someone will tell you there’s been a mistake and the person is still alive. If you’re dealing with grief from a breakup, you might believe your partner will come back to you. Denial helps you to process your grief in your own time. It is a necessary stage that gives you the time to get through the first wave of pain.
If denial is your first reaction, it may be followed by numbness. Life as you know it has irrevocably changed, and it may be difficult to believe that you will ever feel “normal” again. Don’t despair; this is only one stage, and eventually, the emotions will return so you can continue on your healing journey.
Pain can manifest in different forms of intense emotions, one of which is anger. Even if you are not a typically angry person and this emotional response comes as a surprise to you and the people close to you, it’s not uncommon. Anger may not be a typical emotional response in your culture, but it is better to confront the emotion instead of avoiding or denying it.
During the anger stage of grief, you may ask yourself, “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this in my life?” These questions could make you experience feelings of anger at friends, family, strangers, or inanimate objects. You may even feel angry with the one you lost.
Eventually, you may feel guilty about feeling anger, which could make you feel even angrier. It’s important to remember that all your feelings are valid. Try to remind yourself that anger is only a manifestation of the pain you feel, and it’s necessary for your healing process. Anger may also be a way to reconnect to the world around you after the isolation that often comes with the denial stage.
Feelings like anger, rage, irritability, bitterness, impatience, and anxiety are all connected to the outside world, whereby the numbness associated with denial disconnects you.
The bargaining stage of grief gives you hope as you’re experiencing intense emotional pain. This is when you begin an internal dialogue in which you think in terms of “what if.” You may start to actively explore the idea that you could’ve done something to prevent your loved one from dying or the loss from happening. You just want your life to go back to the way it was before.
The bargaining stage is often accompanied by guilt as you try to regain control over events beyond your control. It’s essential to move through every part of this. Bargaining is there to help you confront the reality of the loss you suffered.
As you approach the final stage of grief, you could experience depressed feelings. When experiencing grief, depression is not a sign of a mental health condition. It is perfectly normal to experience it as part of your healing process and just as important as the other stages.
In the previous stage, you start facing the reality of your loss. In the depression stage, the reality is even more apparent, and this realization can lead to extremely sad feelings. You may also experience:
- Feeling distracted
- A lack of appetite
- A lack of motivation
- Unable to move on
- Less enjoyment in life
These feelings are usually temporary and a vital part of the grieving process. Even if it feels overwhelming at the time, these feelings will likely pass when you move into the final stage.
The last stage of grief is acknowledging your loss and learning how to live with it. It is not about accepting what happened and being okay with it. Depending on your personal experience, you may never get to this stage of grief. You may also bounce between it and other stages before you find yourself in it for more extended periods.
These periods will help you gain a long-term perspective on your new reality, and how you will deal with the loss you suffered for the rest of your life.
Common Misconceptions About Grief
There is no right or wrong way of coping with loss. You may feel that your bereavement process is not going the way it should. Bear in mind that everybody is different, and therefore they’ll deal with loss in different ways. Here are some misconceptions about grief you may come across:
You Are Doing it Wrong
Even if you are not experiencing the five stages of grief or feeling the way you think you should, it’s okay. It is impossible to experience grief in the wrong way. Every person has their own unique healing journey.
You Should be Feeling a Certain Way
Not everyone experiences every stage of grief or even experiences emotions in the same way as another. You may experience feeling depressed in a more irritable way than sadness, and denial could feel more like shock than actually expecting someone to tell you that nothing happened. You may also feel other emotions as you move through the stages.
The Five Stages of Grief Are Set in Stone
There is no order to the stages of grief. You could jump from one to the next or go back and forth. Your new reality is not dependent on the five stages of grief, and you could experience any one of them or none at all.
How you respond is a natural response and should be respected. It is valid whether you feel anger, sadness, denial, or any other emotion. Everyone grieves differently.
You Are Taking Too Long to Heal
Dealing with the death of a loved one causes pain. You could experience all kinds of emotions that arrive unexpectedly. It may take time before you achieve acceptance and can move on. Life is not predictable, and many factors will affect how long your healing journey takes.
When you deal with a death, you can experience a range of emotions that come in waves. Eventually, the intensity will decrease, and you may achieve a sense of acceptance. If the intensity does not decrease over time, you should consider seeking help. Bereavement groups and mental health professionals are both options for support.
You Are Depressed
Experiencing the depression stage of grief is not the same as being clinically depressed. Even though some symptoms will be similar, there are significant differences between the two. With grief, the intense sadness or anger will become less severe and less frequent over time. If you are clinically depressed, time does not generally heal. Instead, without professional help, clinical depression could get worse over time.
When It’s Time to Talk to a Mental Health Professional
Even if you are not suffering from clinical depression, it doesn’t mean you won’t need additional support if you are grieving. If your emotional response does not improve over time, you may want to get your grief medically reviewed and reach out to a professional. Sometimes overwhelming emotion can just be too hard to handle alone. Here are some of the signs that it’s time to talk to someone:
- You are experiencing intense grief, and you are unsure how to cope with it.
- You feel you need support and comfort.
- If you need to return to work or school and find it difficult to focus.
- When you have a hard time completing essential daily tasks and feel you need to get back to them.
- You are responsible for someone else and find it difficult to cope.
- If you are in physical pain or discomfort.
- When you skip meals or medications because you don’t feel up to eating or taking your medication.
- The emotions you are experiencing become more intense and frequent instead of lessening over time.
- You have thoughts about hurting yourself or others.
If you experience anything listed above, it’s good to seek help.
What if You Don’t Have Access to Mental Health Professionals?
There are a few ways to reach out for help, even if you don’t have the means to get professional help. Here are some options you could consider.
Bereavement Support Groups
Joining a local support group could significantly help your healing process. Support groups are the ideal space to connect with others who have gone through similar losses and better understand the intense sadness you’re experiencing.
Support groups are also safe spaces for those who want to speak about their emotions without fear of judgment or pressure.
Family and Friends
Sometimes, just talking about your feelings will make you feel a sense of relief. No matter what stage of grief you’re in, talking about how you feel helps you achieve acceptance.
If you feel comfortable with reaching out to a family member or friend, it’s essential to communicate what you think you need from them, whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, somebody to listen to you, or just someone to be around. Remember, if you’re not ready to talk about it, even the silent company of family and friends can have a healing effect.
How to Help Someone Who is Grieving
If somebody close to you is grieving, you may be wondering how you can support them in the best way. Here are five simple tips on how you can help a loved one deal with their loss and accept their new reality.
Listening to the grieving person is one of the main ways to help them navigate their grief. It’s not always possible to find the right words that provide comfort. Perhaps you are a good listener instead.
#2. Offer Help
Not everyone is a good listener, and that’s okay. If you don’t feel equipped or able to offer emotional support, make it clear to your loved one that you can help them in other ways. Whether cooking meals, shopping, or assisting with funeral arrangements, be clear about what you can help with.
#3. Be Practical
Don’t expect your loved one to “get over it,” “snap out of it,” or move through the stages of grief in a particular way. Everyone grieves differently, and some people even find self-care impossible. Help in whatever way you can and, above all, be patient.
#4. Don’t Assume Anything
Even if you want to help in any way, don’t guess where your loved one is in the stages of grief and offer unsolicited advice on what they should be doing. Understanding grief entirely is impossible, even when you are busy experiencing it.
Instead of assuming they are okay when they’re smiling or not okay when they are crying, wait for them to express their grief in their own way.
#5. Be Ready With Resources
The grieving person may not be able to source bereavement groups or be in the right frame of mind to find a mental health professional to help them. Try to be aware of your loved one’s mental state and have the information ready in case they reach out for that kind of help.
The Grieving Process – Everyone Grieves Differently
Dealing with grief is different for everyone. Some people will feel deserted if you don’t give them enough attention, while others will want to be left alone. Life has its ups and downs, and so does the process of grief.
The Swiss American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross designed the Kübler-Ross grief model that consists of the five stages. It provides a basic outline of a natural response someone may have to grief and can help with dealing with loss and understanding grief.
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, it’s okay to experience the grief in any way. You may feel intense emotions like deep anger or become emotionally numb. No matter how you feel, all feelings are valid. How much time it takes to navigate the stages of grief also varies. Whether it takes hours, days, months, or years to process loss, it is important not to lose hope.