Stages of Grief

Lady sitting on sofa with head in hands

Grief if a complex state, that is often associated with death, but is also sometimes referred to in other scenarios such as grieving the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. How each individual copes with their grief is a unique journey. The stages of grief are broadly the same, however, individual perception of each stage and the length of time spent will be different. There are two different models that are often referred to and these are 5 or 7 stages of grief. 

5 or 7 Stages of Grief

Both models of grief are similar, however, the seven-stage model is more detailed and better considers the unique and complex nature of grief. We will therefore list the stages of both models but use the 7 stages of grief for further discussion. 

5 Stages of Grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger 
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

7 Stages of Grief:

  1. Shock and denial
  2. Pain and guilt
  3. Anger and bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. The upward turn
  6. Reconstruction and working through
  7. Acceptance and hope

There is no definitive answer to how long each stage will last. Some people will cope better than others, some will linger at varying stages, and a few may never reach the acceptance stage. With support from loved ones, and possibly professional help most people can process their grief and move forwards in a positive manner. 

Grief Is Not Uniform 

As already stated, there is no set time for grief, and looking at 5 or 7 stages of grief can be helpful to someone that has never been through it to understand the feelings and emotions of those currently grieving.  However, grief is not actually uniform. Many people may not follow each stage in this order, some people may revisit one or more of the stages several times, some people may linger on a stage for a very long time then quickly move through the others. What may be a long time for one person, may be no time at all to others. Grief is in fact not linear, and can feel very chaotic. 

What is important is that if you are the one that is grieving that you understand that your feelings are completely normal and acceptable, and that you seek support from family, friends, or a professional if it all feels too much. If you are supporting someone that is grieving, having a basic understanding of what they may be going through, and being there to listen, provide emotional and practical support as required is of the upmost importance. 

Stage 1: Shock and Denial

This first stage of grief may be immediately upon on death, where it was unexpected, but may be weeks, months, or even years prior to the death when there is a terminal diagnosis. During this stage thoughts of the diagnosis or news being incorrect are paramount. Denial is a coping mechanism that allows the mind to process what is happening and move onto the next stage.

Stage 2: Pain and Guilt

Once reality has set in that this is really happening, you may feel pain that the person that has died or is dying is letting you down, or conversely you may feel that you have let them down. These feelings are all completely normal. This stage can be extremely difficult as you may be both in pain for and at the person, which is a complex emotion to cope with.  

Stage 3: Anger and Bargaining

Even the mildest mannered of people may find themselves becoming angry during the depths of grief. Anger at the person that has died, yourself, or others that are involved can all surface during this period. It is not unusual to find non-religious people bargaining with God or similar asking for themselves to be taken instead, and conversely, those that are religious may find themselves questioning their religion and angry that they are in this situation.

Stage 4: Depression

It is not unusual for those that are dealing with grief to spend a period withdrawn from others. This stage of loneliness and isolation can help you to properly process the loss and all the feelings and emotions that have come since. This time of reflection is an important step that can allow many people to turn a corner and begin to focus on the next stage of their lives. It is during this stage that many people seek professional support. Your GP can refer you for counselling, and Steve also works alongside dedicated grief support professionals that he can refer you to. 

Stage 5: The Upward Turn

It is during this stage that the focus of negative emotions tends to ebb away, and these are replaced with positive thoughts and memories of the deceased, as well as a renewed enthusiasm for life. It is during this stage that you may tentatively start to think about how your life will look without the deceased and begin to think about the future. 

Stage 6: Reconstruction and Working Through 

As confidence grows, this is the period that many people start to gradually rebuild their lives. Whether returning to work, starting a new hobby, or tentatively thinking about a new relationship. During this stage you may be concerned about how others perceive you and question yourself a lot. It is important to find a few trusted family members or friends, or to find a counsellor that you can work through the vast array of emotions with. It is only natural to feel as though people may be questioning your motives, or whether you are moving on too quickly. However, it is important to remember that the deceased would have wanted you to have a nice and fulfilling life without them, and that it is not disrespectful to their memory to move on. 

Stage 7: Acceptance and Hope

This final stage of grief is where you have fully processed and dealt with the death and are embracing your new life. You can still love and fondly remember the deceased, have a day or two of sadness and reflection around grief anniversaries, but you are living your life in a way that mostly makes you feel happy and fulfilled. 

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