The Five Stages of Grief

Grief is the natural emotional response to loss, and no loss is more profound or lasting than death. The grief experienced as the result of a death can be deep, very painful, and can often feel unending. But grief is also a process, and can lead to the healing of the loss and to finding solace and reprieve from the pain. Grief is an important step in processing a loss, and should be engaged with in order to heal from the loss.

One tool for understanding grief is through “the five stages of grief” developed by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book "On Death and Dying." Kübler-Ross describes the stages as “tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.” She notes that the stages “are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order.” However, many people find that having a framework for understanding grief is a helpful tool for grieving and understanding the experience of someone who is grieving.

The Kübler-Ross five stages of grieving are:

1. Denial: When a reality feels too overwhelming to accept, many people will—to some degree or another—deny that the reality exists. For example, upon hearing the news of a death it is not uncommon to deny the news or argue that the death could not have occurred.

2. Anger: Anger is a natural emotional response to feeling wronged or harmed. For many people, the death of a loved one can feel “unfair,” which can lead to feelings of anger, and can sometimes lead to searching for someone to blame for the death (and therefore someone to be angry at).

3. Bargaining: After experiencing a loss, it is common to wish things back to the way they were before the loss, which in turn can lead to thoughts of what could have been done differently before the loss occurred. These thoughts often take the form of imagining “What if...” or “If only...” in an attempt to negotiate an alternate reality.

4. Depression: When someone is fully present and engaged in the grief he or she is experiencing, it is common to feel sad, lonely, and hopeless. The grieving person might ask, “Now that my loved one has died, what’s the point in continuing to live?” or feel that life is meaningless.

5. Acceptance: To reach acceptance is to fully understand that the person who has died is gone forever and that this new reality of life without that person is the permanent reality.

While using the framework of the “five stages” may be helpful for some, it may not be helpful for others, and there are plenty of other resources available to those experiencing grief or looking to support someone who is grieving.

For other suggestions of ways to deal with grief, see our article Ways to Deal with Grief.

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