Loss is something we all experience at some time in life and as a reaction, we grieve. Grief might be experienced in different stages. Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist, conducted studies on people who were dying and proposed 5 stages of grieving in her book, On death and dying. These five stages of grief have been memorised and used as the only reference for the process of grieving, however, other experts propose more stages.
What are the ‘stages of grief’?
“Why do I need to be aware of the stages of grief?”, well it might just help you to realise that these emotions and feelings you might be experiencing are a ‘normal’ reaction to loss. Notice that I have not numbered these stages for the very reason that they might not be experienced in an ordinal number or cycle.
- Disbelief & shock
This stage might be one of the firsts one might experience when loss steps into your life. Numbness might be overwhelming your mind and body, a loss for words might crowd your reality, and your body might feel frozen. You are struggling to believe that loss is now a part of your life.
Denial is a defence mechanism our brain kicks into gear when we experience something that is traumatic, such as loss, as a way to protect itself (brain). A state of numbness might still be present when denial becomes a part of your grieving process. Grace somewhat comes into play when denial is experienced in which we are gracefully released into the grieving process, allowing ourselves to only handle as much as we can at that moment.
- Guilt & pain
Unbearable, unthinkable pain might be settling in and you might feel unsure where to go from there. You might be asking yourself things like “What did I do to deserve this pain?”. Although the pain might be excruciating and it might feel like the weight is too heavy to bear, you must feel the pain fully. Feeling this pain in every inch of your being might be so uncomfortable but healing might come from it, the only way for you to heal from it is to go through it.
Guilty feelings might be flooding your mind such as “I wish I called them more” “I wish I had more time with them” “I wish I embraced the experience more” etc. Life might feel scary and chaotic for you in this phase, have hope and faith that it too shall pass.
“If only I could turn back the time, love someone more, say less, do more…” Sometimes after a loss we experience a phase where we start bargaining with fate or higher power to negotiate more time to gain back the thing or person we lost. ‘What ifs’ recycle over and over in our minds that result in us finding fault in ourselves, we wonder if we could have done something differently. We might even start to bargain and negotiate with the pain and do anything just to not feel the hurt of the loss.
Anger is mostly seen as one of the ‘no-go’ emotions because “why would one ever feel the need to be angry”?. Anger keeps us afloat in the times when the nothingness of loss wants to suck us in and sometimes it is also a sign of our intense love we have nowhere to put. The key lies in dealing constructively with this anger and truly feeling it, and as result dissipate (let disappear) your anger and facilitate your healing process. Pain further underlies your anger and it is normal to be upset about a loss. Feel your anger, go through it and learn from it.
You sink into the dark nothingness of the ocean and you find yourself in a deeper place than you have ever been with yourself. You might feel heavy and lifeless, normal things in life might feel burdened, and you might start questioning if there is any joy left in life. It is important to acknowledge that this stage or phase of depression or depressive feelings is not a sign of mental illness. Depression is just as important and necessary a stage as all the others, in the healing process of grief.
One might think that this stage is just about feeling ‘ok’ or ‘alright’ with the loss, it’s quite the opposite. In this stage, one accepts the fact that the person, situation, or thing is no longer part of your reality and realises that there is a new reality to acquaint yourself with. We learn to live with this new reality and this is where we reflect resilience toward the situation.
Remember that not all of these stages are guaranteed to be experienced as your grieving process is unique. It is also important to acknowledge that these stages might not happen in an ordinal manner; some stages might be experienced simultaneously and reoccur during your grieving process. Have patience with yourself when you are working through the loss you experienced, however when these stages of grief start interfering with your daily functioning you might seek some help to work through them.