Experiencing grief after the loss of a loved one is a normal part of healing and each person handles death differently. We typically view grief as short term sadness in response to a loss, but grieving can often be a longer process involving a variety of complicated feelings and emotions. Understanding the stages of grief can provide reassurance as you work through the process and move toward acceptance.
Stages of Grief
We all handle loss in our own way and there is no wrong or right way to feel when you’ve experienced the death of a loved one. There are five stages of grief that people typically work through during the mourning process, although not every person will encounter each stage and every loss is different. It is also important to know that grief is not a linear process, and you may move back and forth between stages or find that they overlap.
Denial does not mean that you are refusing to accept the loss, but rather refers to the feeling of shock, disbelief, or numbness that can arise shortly after a death. This phase can often be a defense mechanism protecting you from the emotional pain of a loss, especially if the death was sudden or unexpected. You may also feel disconnected from your grief during this phase as you focus on completing tasks related to the death and may not be able to fully process your feelings yet.
Anger is a common response to death and can be a complicated stage, but not everyone experiences it. Anger may be rational or irrational, and manifest in many ways. Many people feel angry with doctors, caregivers, God, or even themselves and hold on to the idea that they could have or should have done something differently to prevent the loss. This phase may also include feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, frustration, loneliness, and more commonly, fear. Anger may be a helpful phase to help protect you from feeling the loss too deeply until you are more able to process your emotions in a more healthy manner.
Bargaining may be a shorter phase of the grieving process. During this phase a person is typically looking to find meaning in the loss and may analyze the situation to try to understand every detail of the loss. Questioning whether something could have been done differently is very common. This is also commonly a time of reflection where you look back on fond memories with your loved one and seek to understand them more deeply.
Depression tends to be the longest phase of grief and where some people can get stuck if they are not able to work through the process. This feeling of depression during grieving is normal and healthy, and different from clinical depression. The depression phase is where most people begin to fully feel the effects of the loss they have experienced and have to face the reality of the situation. During this phase it is important to reach out to your support system, focus on taking care of yourself, and get additional help if you are worried about being stuck in this stage long term.
Acceptance is the phase where most people start to move forward in their life to begin healing in a healthy and constructive way and establish their new normal. It may not always be possible to “move on” without the person you’ve lost, but you can face the reality of what life looks like now with a sense of peace. You may also go back to enjoying things you did before the loss or find new interests and hobbies as you build this next chapter of your life.
How Long Does The Grieving Process Take?
There is no specific timeline for grieving and it often takes longer than expected. Be patient and gentle with yourself and allow time to adequately move through the phases of grief, whatever that looks like for you. Grief can sometimes feel overwhelming and having a compassionate inner voice while you are healing is important. This is a good time to establish a support system and reach out to those around you. We all experience times where we need additional help from our family, friends and community and there is no shame in reaching out when you need to. Know that it is also okay to set your grief aside when necessary. You are allowed to work, relax, and have fun when you can. Take breaks from grieving and allow yourself to recharge and relax when possible without feeling guilty.