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Stages of Grief

While grief is a very personal and individual process, there are stages of mourning that are universal. It should be kept in mind that while these stages are normal, they are not on a straight path, and they may come out of order. For instance, an individual may feel they are going backwards instead of progressing. This is natural and will continue until the grief is processed.

Stage One/Denial and Isolation

Shock is the first reaction many have when faced with the death of a loved one. This is a protective instinct the mind erects to protect us from the onslaught of emotions. Once the shock wears off, an individual may have trouble accepting the death. Tendencies to hide from the world during this stage are normal.

Stage Two/Anger

As the denial wears off and reality sets in, immense pain emerges. Many times this pain is redirected into anger. This anger can be directed inward, or onto friends, family, inanimate objects, health professionals, or even the deceased. This anger usually results in guilt, which brings more anger.

Stage Three/Bargaining

This is the stage when the bereaved may start trying to take back control. They may rationalize in their mind with many “what if” scenarios. This stage is full of “why” questions that have no answer.

Stage Four/Depression

This is the stage where the bereaved understands the magnitude of their loss. They are able to grasp the fact that their life is altered, and will never be the same. Deep sadness and regret dominate, sometimes accompanied by worry over other loved ones.

Stage Five/Acceptance

Acceptance does not mean happiness. Acceptance only means that the bereaved acknowledges the death of their loved one and is prepared to live without them. Their brain has processed the necessary loss and they realize they are still alive. This is when the bereaved start asking “how” questions in regards to themselves, instead of staying focused on “why” in regards to the deceased.

**The five stages of grief are based on Swiss-born psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross "On Death and Dying", Macmillan Publishing Company, 1969.

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