Are there 5 Stages of Grief and Loss?

In our culture, you have probably heard a reference to the 5 stages of grief and loss.  So in my previous post on grief, I mentioned grief is characterized by a loss – that can be death of a loved one, loss of job, loss of home etc.

I know this may sound like an insensitive reference, but yesterday I lost my phone.  And looking back on it today, I feel as though I went through the 5 stages of grief and loss.  I don’t know about you, but I turn into a manic person when I lose something and I can’t find it.  I will not rest until I find it.  I turned my office, my house, and my car all upside down trying to find it.  At first, I was in denial – “No it couldn’t be gone… I just had it yesterday…I never lose my phone…”

Then I was outraged.  I don’t even know who I was mad at.  I think myself? But I remember feeling so irritable and wanting to snap at anyone who looked at me the wrong way while I was going through this manic episode frantically looking everywhere.

Then I started bargaining…I am not a religious person and I started praying to Saint Anthony to help me find my lost phone.

Then I was sad and started to accept that it’s gone and never coming back.

So anyways that is what got me thinking about the 5 stages of grief.  Are there actually 5 stages?  Does everyone go through them?

the 5 Stages of Grief and Loss

I did some research and the 5 Stages of Grief and Loss were developed by  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.  So when we are grieving, we spend different lengths of time working through each step and express each stage with different levels of intensity. They do not necessarily occur in any specific order.

They are:

  1. Denial and Isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Sadness
  5. Acceptance

So what is often referred to as the first stage Denial – a person will often deny the reality of the situation.  Individuals may feel so overwhelmed with emotion they rationalize that this cannot be reality and try to deny the situation.

Next a person may experience Anger.  As the denial begins to fade, a person may begin to experience pain.  This anger can be directed any anybody – our selves, the person who we’ve lost, or other people we thought could have prevented this loss.  We know it’s not rational to blame and be angry – but sometimes anger is an easier emotion to hold rather than sadness.

Again another response may be to try and Bargain.  A person may feel vulnerable and helpless and it makes sense to try and regain control by bargaining.  We try and make a deal to prevent the inevitable – that can be with a Higher Power, doctors, other people etc.

Then all of these stages a person has gone through will feel like an emotional roller coaster.  You’ve been up, you’ve been down, you’ve been sideways and nothing seems to work.  You’re getting close to acceptance, but you’re not quite there yet.  So you feel Sadness – you can’t avoid, be angry, or bargain anymore – you begin to feel the sorrow and sadness of the loss.

The last phase which I believe everyone would like to get to, but doesn’t always get there depending on the loss is acceptance. And this is where you can really start to heal.  I always tell my clients acceptance does not mean you will ever be okay with the loss.  It just means that you can begin to heal.  Carrying on with your life does not mean you are in any way leaving that person you lossed behind.  But you are acknowledging they may not be here in the physical world anymore, but you will always have the memories you shared – and you can try to carry their legacy on.   Ask yourself, what was the legacy they lived and shared with the world?  How can you honor that legacy today in your life?  

Sometimes on this journey to heal from the loss of a loved one – we may need added support.  That’s okay and that is normal.  Try talking to someone you love and if you still feel as though it’s not getting any easier, maybe seek out a counsellor who specializes in grief.  You can also find a support group as well.  Being around others who share similar struggles and journeys, can be enlightening and healing.

Something to keep is mind is that people grieve differently. Some people will wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional. Others will experience their grief more internally, and may not cry. Do not judge how a person experiences their grief, as each person will experience it differently.

In summary,  I don’t know if the 5 stages of grief and loss are necessarily true.  But it is a helpful framework and guide in order for us to better understand our own grieving process and the grieving process of others.  So remember give yourself permission to grieve, and there is no right or wrong way to grieving.  Grieving is a very personal process.

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