The 5 Stages Of Grief - Let's Take Things One Step At A Time

Last updated by Katie M.

Is there any absence that causes more pain? There comes a time, at a certain age, when most of us have already experienced this drama, this absolute loss. Throughout our lives, death is our companion, walking alongside us, but when it affects those we love, how do we live with this absence? How do we stay alive when death strikes? How can we get over a bereavement?

The 5 Stages Of Grief - Let's Take Things One Step At A Time

Death, as dramatic as it is commonplace

Whether it happens like a slap to the face, or whether it has already become part of our daily life, when death makes an appearance, everything falls apart and only pain remains. No matter how much we know about it, how much we know it will happen, it’s impossible to prepare yourself for the sense of lacking, the emptiness that nothing will ever fill again. Suffering the loss of a parent, facing the death of a husband or a friend, is losing a part of our lives. We will never have another mother or father; we’ll never again have this person by our side. Grief must not be underestimated, and it takes time to recover. A relatively long time that we must accept in order to learn to live again.

Grief as great as the attachment

When we lose someone, mourning begins automatically. It’s a vital process, commensurate with the attachment linking you to this person. Death is a rupture, and mourning allows for it to be repaired and even healed. It is therefore a necessary step and the greater the grief, the longer and more intense it will be. It’s only normal.

The 5 stages of grief: A time for each emotion

The stages of grief are used to describe and understand the process. However, as is often the case for humans, nothing is set in stone. The stages of grief do not always take place in chronological order. One stage may go by, then come back, others may overlap. Some will last a long time, while others will be more short-term. These 5 stages are reference points that enable us to know where we’re at and to put a name to the emotions we’re feeling, but they are specific to each person. The process of grief depends on who we are.

What are these stages?

The psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined the 5 stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These are the 5 stages a person goes through during the grief process. It is by no means a question of putting all our emotions as a bereaved person into these boxes. These stages allow us to give a name and define what we feel, and help us to move forward one step at a time, at our own rhythm.

1. Denial, shock

It’s this phase of disbelief, almost anesthesia, that seizes us all when we learn of the death of a loved one: “it can’t be!” Even if depending on the circumstances we are able to prepare for a death, it’s impossible to imagine that we will never see this person again. That we’ll never hear them again, that we’ll never speak to them again, hold their hand, kiss them… Unimaginable! Denial is therefore the stage that allows us to survive this news. Sometimes we even find ourselves searching for information, trying to understand the death and to find an explanation for it. “What could have prevented it?” This denial pushes aside grief by refusing the fatality of death. Little by little, however, reality will resurface.

2. Anger

When death occurs, it’s healthy to welcome your anger. If we block out this anger, it will be hard to get rid of. Death is unjust, and so anger is legitimate, we must let it pass and live with it, even if it is excessive, may seem displaced or illogical, it’s part of the process. It’s impossible to rebuild yourself if you don’t let your anger be expressed. Often anger is all over the place: “why didn’t he/she pay more attention?”, “why didn’t I take more care of him/her?”, “why didn’t the doctors do more?” … This is one of the most difficult stages because it is exhausting and can leave us isolated from our loved ones, who we need most at times like this. Yet, I’ll repeat it, this anger is necessary in the process of mourning, it is the confirmation of our attachment and our love for the person we’ve lost. It’s also a sign that we’re making progress in our grief.

3. Bargaining

It’s a stage that also occurs when we learn that a loved one will soon die. We bargain: “and if… we found a treatment quickly.” “God, I promise I’ll dedicate my life to others if you let him/her live”, “if only I could wake up and realize this was all just a nightmare.” Bargaining is an act, a desperate thought. Our sense of helplessness is so great that we refuse to accept the reality and detach ourselves from it completely. It’s a phase of delusion in which our mind tries to alter the past in order to change reality.

4. Depression

The end of the bargaining comes when we become aware of the unyielding reality, and we come back to the present: the loss, the absence, the emptiness. What is the only valid response to this reality? Sadness and depression. Not a depression linked to a mental illness, but the appropriate response to the loss of a loved one. This period of depression is therefore completely normal. We must not be repaired but accompanied. This period can seem endless because it seems insurmountable: we have come out of our daze and the reality is striking, the emotions that overwhelm us at this moment are violent. This depression makes us isolated, disturbs our sleep and appetite, exhausts us, etc. We are completely distressed, and yet we must accept this sadness as a necessary caller that will allow us to assimilate this grief, to rebuild and strengthen ourselves. We must accept this depression and make room for it. It will only go away when we have the strength to accept it. Of course, sadness is special because it can come back from time to time. That’s how grief works.

5. Acceptance

Acceptance isn’t the end of the pain, and even less the forgetting. Acceptance is a phase of rebuilding, during which we accept the reality of the situation. Life (another life) goes on, and we start to move forward with more energy and physical and mental capacity. This is the time when we must reorganize our lives without this person we’ve lost. This stage is also the acceptance that our lives have changed forever, that we have to readjust after this dramatic situation. Things can’t go back to the way they were before.

What next? Forgetting?

To mourn is to go through the process of mourning. This process of mourning consists of accepting the death, the loss of a person we love. It is not at all a case of forgetting. How can you forget? How can you turn the page and move on? We often think wrongly that once the mourning is done, we move on and forget the person we loved. No, of course not. And if you think that, how can you grieve properly? Of course, in these conditions, we refuse to grieve. But let’s never forget that mourning is not forgetting. Mourning is learning to live with this absence. A death leaves an indelible mark on us. At the end of a bereavement, we will never be the person we were before, but we will be able to feel joy, pleasure, happiness and live with the scar, even if from time to time, it will prove painful.

Behavioral changes after bereavement: The consequences on our health

In spite of the stages involved, grief is obviously never simple and can have serious consequences on our mental or psychological health. For example, it is a major factor in the risk of suicide and/or addictive and dangerous behaviors (alcohol, medication, drugs, dangerous driving). 5 % of bereaved people may even suffer from pathological grief. This means that a complicated grief that can be particularly prolonged can lead to someone contracting a mental or physical illness. The bereaved person may suffer from deep depression, anxiety disorders, and even develop ulcers, heart problems or cancer. The more sudden the death, the more the living feel guilty and the higher the risk of pathological grief.

Editor's advice: Because we all need help and advice

Grieving is a difficult process, and each situation is different. Being accompanied by a therapist during this process is very effective, especially if you have trouble verbalizing your emotions. It is vital that you are able to express them in order to move on. If you are feeling emotions such as guilt, anger, or if you had a conflictual relationship with the person who died, do not hesitate to make an appointment.

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