Fast Five - Grief

Grief is a universal experience; a layered response to loss, usually related to death, but also applies to changes or transitions that require time to adjust to. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed the Five Stages of Grief Model to serve as a framework to help us to identify and understand what we may be feeling after a loss. Here they are:

1. Denial. Typically the first stage after a loss when things are much a blur and might even feel meaningless. Denial is a defense mechanism, telling you "This is not happening / This can't be real." You may feel shock or numbed to things around you. Denial helps to block out what may be too much for you, and eventually the reality of the loss becomes real and you build coping skills to face it and move through it. Coping: Remember that this is temporary and normal. 

2. Anger. This stage can be more painful and can come after the reality of a loss sets in. There are many other emotions also surfacing, but anger can be easier for many to access or express. It's usually a deflection from vulnerability. You might be angry at the world, other people, yourself, or sometimes the person/thing you've lost. Anger allows you to feel again after a period of not feeling. It is intense, and it may come & go. You may even feel guilty for feeling this angry. Coping: Don't avoid it. Don't suppress it. Talk about it. Feel the anger come; feel the anger leave.

3. Bargaining. Again, a normal reaction to try to regain control of what feels awry. This can be attempts to make a "deal" with your higher power in order to prolong the inevitable loss. After a loss, this may turn into a series of "What if I _________, this could all prove to be a dream?" questions. You try to negotiate your way out of the pain that feels intolerable. Coping: As much as it hurts, keep bringing yourself back to the reality that time is passing, and that you have been able to make it. Small steps and small goals will be helpful. 

4. Depression. This stage can look like a deep sadness with feelings of helplessness or resignation, or a quieter sadness as you begin to fully embrace your loss. You might notice your feelings resurfacing. This can affect your motivation, desire to be around others, energy level, etc. A period of depression is an appropriate response and usually necessary for full healing. Coping: Utilize your support system. Talk through what you are feeling and get some reassurance of your own meaning. 

5. Acceptance. This is not a stage that everyone reaches. This means that you are able to now fully accept reality and its permanence. You establish a new norm, a new routine, new responses. Reaching this stage doesn't mean that everything is "ok" and that you are "fine," now and ready for the world. However, this stage can feel calm. Coping: Make room for change. Make room for growth.


*Careful note:The stages are not linear and not everyone goes through all stages, or even in this order. Your grief process is uniquely your own and as such, your coping will also be unique to you.* See some resources below to learn more about grief & bereavement. Til next time-Dr. A

On Death and Dying

Grief Recovery Handbook