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10 Stages of grief

The grief process is very fluid. Most of us do not proceed in an orderly fashion through the stages from shock to acceptance. Rather, we move between the stages, skipping some, returning to others, and sometimes feeling as though we haven’t healed at all but are back at the beginning again. The purpose of this kind of list of stages of grief is to prove reassurance that all these feelings are perfectly normal, and we can move through them.

1. Shock -  This initial stage of grief is usually experience even if the death has been expected, as in a long terminal illness. There is only so much physical or psychic pain which can be endured. When that limit is reached, the mental/emotional system shuts down. This is expressed as a “numbness,” or as a sense of unreality. There is often denial which can last for quite some time. This stage is characterized by a kind of self-protection which allows only as much pain as can be coped with.

2. Emotional Release – As shock and numbness wear off, there is a need to release all the emotions which have been building up. There bereaved may experience intense emotions such as anguish, anger, relief, fear, ect., or may want to scream or strike out. One may also become super-sensitive to the behaviors and words of others at this time and may react out of proportion to their actions.

3. Depression – There are often feelings of loneliness and utter isolation which comes with depression. The feeling of “there is no help for me,” is normal and very common. There is a push/pull situation, wanting to be alone and yet feeling a need for people at the same time. This frequently produces fear of panic and impending insanity.

4. Physical Symptoms – The bereaved may experience physical symptoms similar to those experienced by the deceased, as well as very real pains, weakness, nausea and changes in eating and sleep habits. The bereaved are known to be at risk for illness at a greater rate than usual.

5. Anxiety, Fear and Panic – A common response to loss is for the bereaved to experience vivid dreams of the deceased. Another common manifestation is that the bereaved will mistake another person for the deceased, usually on the street or in a store. This will sometimes cause great embarrassment as they may address the stranger, only to realize their mistake. Spiritual anxiety is expressed in questions attempting to make sense out of the loss ( Where is he now, Why did she die?”) Fear of forgetting the deceased and of being alone are common, as is fear of new social situations.

6. Hostility, Anger – When a loved one has died, it is very common for the survivor to feel anger at those who were involved in the situation. There is a feeling of “why didn’t you do more?” “why didn’t god save him?” Feelings ranging from irritability to outright range can be focused on medical personnel, clergy, God, the deceased and friends. Acknowledging the anger can be difficult for the bereaved and may be accompanied by feelings of guilt.

7. Guilt – Guilt is an ever-present component of grief. Following the death, it is common experience for the survivor to remember only the negative aspects of the relationship, those times of insensitivity or harsh words spoken in anger. The bereaved may feel that he or she did not provide adequate care or may not have attended to some part of the relationship with the deceased.

8. Hesitancy to renew normal activities – There is often a fear of returning to the regular routine of living. This fear takes several aspects. There is concern about how people will respond to the bereaved; there is a desire to talk about the deceased but a fear of rejection; there is a pain that comes with hearing that special song, or seeing something in a store that brings back the memory of the loved one. This fear may be related to loss of identity and a search for new roles in life.

9. Renewed Hopes and the Healing of Memories – this is a time of reaching out, however tentatively, to embrace fully all that has happened and
to accept that life must change if it is to continue. The memories become less frightening, and the sky a bit brighter as the bereaved begins to face the world with more and more confidence.

10. Acceptance on one’s new role and readjusting to reality – Loss brings about changes. Whether it is the resumption of single life after years of marriage, or going on through the years without a parent, there must be the realization that a new role is to be accepted and lived. The cycle of life continues, and the bereaved can finally shed the cloak of grief and take on the robe of peace and renewal. With time, the loss may be touched, remembered and accepted.

Four Tasks

  1. Acceptance of the reality of the loss.
  2. Working through the pain of the grief.
  3. Adjusting to the environment in which the deceased is missing or the loss has occurred. 
  4. Emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life. Finding an appropriate place for the dead in one’s emotional life.


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