The Five Stages of Grief is a popular model for understanding grief in yourself and people around you. While we believe this model is helpful for many people, it is also important to know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. These stages may be felt out of order or might not be experienced at all. It is more helpful to think of these stages as a guideline rather than a set of rules.
1. Denial & Isolation
When experiencing grief, denial and isolation is often the first stage people experience. The level of denial varies, for most people it is as simple as not quite believing that the person has gone or not quite grasping that it has happened so quickly. Isolation is commonly paired with denial and is a coping mechanism to deal with the reality of the situation. Reaching out to your loved ones and staying connected is especially important during this stage.
For many people, anger is synonymous with grief. Whether you feel angry at yourself or people around you, there is a chance you might feel angry at some point in your grieving journey. This stage can be the most difficult for many people to deal with. Just remember that anger is completely normal even if it may seem irrational. Try to be patient with yourself and others.
This step can be experienced by anyone but is especially common within children. Bargaining with a higher power or with loved ones, including parents, can be quite common. Children might say things like, “I promise to be good if I can see them again” or other similar expressions. Bargaining is another coping mechanism to help people feel as though they have some control over an uncontrollable situation.
Depression is the stage which is most associated with grief. Feeling sad about your loss, experiencing regret, stress and anxiety are all common contributing factors to this stage. Many people experience this stage immediately and skip other stages. Some other people may not feel as though their feelings fit into this stage. Regardless of how you feel, your feelings are valid and should be respected. However, please talk to friends and family or reach out to a professional if you feel as though your grief is unmanageable.
For many people, this stage feels as if it will never come. But accepting the loss of a loved one is not the same as forgetting or moving on. It is simply being able to acknowledge that they are gone. People can still feel sadness, anger, or any other emotion after accepting their loss. It is not the end of the grieving process, but it does indicate that your healing journey can begin.
We understand that grief looks different for everyone. Your grief might perfectly align with these stages, you might skip some stages, or your grief may look nothing like this. Regardless, these stages can be a helpful tool for understanding your grief or the grief of people around you.