Explaining the Five Stages of Grief

“Angel of Grief” by Konrad Summers

Few things can be as painful or confusing as dealing with death. The emotions that can spiral after the loss of a loved one – the sorrow, the bitterness, and even anger at being left alone – all those emotions cause us to feel guilt about them. We are human; we need to cut ourselves some slack during the grieving process. The five stages of grief we experience after the loss of someone we care about entails a range of emotions that may trigger other issues we haven’t dealt with before.

The five stages of grief don’t necessarily occur in any certain order, and not everyone experiences every one of the grief stages. Each stage can be experienced in a matter of hours, or days, or weeks, depending on the individual. A person may see-saw back and forth between different emotions during the struggle with grief and loss.

We never know, even after we feel we have healed, if something will trigger us and return us back to one of the stages we thought we had completed. Mourning and the grieving process are as individual as fingerprints. Unless we have been through an experience before, we may have no clue as to how we would react when dealing with grief. How a person will react after the loss of a loved one is one of those things that can’t fully be anticipated.

The Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief

A pioneer in the field of bereavement and grief counseling, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed that people go through five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying, written in 1969.

Grief Stage 1: Denial and Isolation

The first grief stage Dr. Kubler-Ross talks about is: Denial and Isolation. When in denial, a grieving person doesn’t want to have to face dealing with death. A person may withdraw and deny what happened. In the case where a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he or she might try to carry on as though living life normally, all the while trying not to address the weight of dealing with the stages of grief. A person in denial may feel awkward talking to friends who try to help or express condolences.

Grief Stage 2: Anger

Being left is not fun. Losing a loved one means a whole host of things, including no longer celebrating holidays with that person, family gatherings never being the same, and no longer having the ability to talk or express yourself to that person. A person at this stage in the grieving process often directs anger at the disease, the doctors, the facility, or other family members or friends. In fact, the grieving individual is unable to admit that he or she is angry at being left, angry that everything has changed after the loved one’s death, or angry at uncontrollable events.

Grief Stage 3: Bargaining

Usually, a person going through the five stages of grief will try to make a bargain – however frivolous or sincere – with a higher power, the doctor, or the dying person to save the person’s life. After the loss of a loved one, a bargaining person may seek a reason, or begin to look for explanations to explain what could have prevented the grief and loss. For example, the grieving individual thinks that if their departed loved one had seen a doctor a year earlier, or had access to better care, or some other reason, that the person might have had a better chance.

Grief Stage 4: Depression

Dr. Kubler-Ross divides this stage of the grieving process into two types of depression. One type of bereavement depression is triggered by the loss of a loved one, and the practical implications of death, such as the cost of a funeral, the loss of income, or the tasks of taking care of the person’s estate. The other type of depression that comes from grief and loss is more personal: the sadness that dealing with death can cause. This is the type of depression where the grieving person has to finally say goodbye to the deceased loved one.

Grief Stage 5: Acceptance

The final stage of the five stages of grief is Acceptance. This stage, which many people may never reach, is marked by calmness and a realization that death is inevitable. A person who has reached Acceptance in his or her grieving process may not be happy, but at least the person’s life is moving on. The grieving person is no longer caught in a web of emotion that leaves him or her constant crying or feeling frozen. Acceptance of the loss of a loved one means coming to terms with the cycles of life; it means that the person chooses not let the death of a loved one paralyze them.

Autumn Dawn” by James Jordan

Dr. Kubler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, also used this model of her five stages of grief to describe the stages of recovery when dealing with many types of losses, including the loss of a marriage, a job, infertility, and other life events that trigger a grieving process. Her observations were built on years of treating patients, especially the terminally ill. Although Dr. Kubler-Ross’s book, Death and Dying, was written in 1969, it is still considered the “gold standard” to explain grief and loss in grief and bereavement counseling programs today.

At Everlasting Footprint, we encourage people dealing with grief to seek help, assistance, and support. Build Footprints and celebrate life together.


About Cindy Readnower

Cindy Readnower, MBA, specializes in sales, marketing, and entrepreneurship. An award-winning certified Life Coach, business consultant, and publisher at Skinny Leopard Media, she helps writers produce and promote their books. She is a newspaper columnist, author of "Inherited Secrets," and a blogger.

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