The stages of grief are essential components of the process of accepting losses. It is somewhat peculiar that we, as human beings, are aware of the finiteness of our existence, but it is not usual to be ready for it.
Losses usually hit people hard, causing tears, regrets, despair, and depression. These are normal, expected, and necessary reactions to alleviate the grief caused by the death of a loved one. However, would they be milder if there was an understanding and acceptance of the imminence of death?
The truth is that there are few who are prepared to deal with losses.
The grieving process is still taboo. Most prefer to leave it to worry about it at the exact moment of the event. Due to the many superstitions that circulate in the States, some people are even afraid to “call death” simply by touching this subject!
With the aim of making clarifications about grief, in this post we will address the five stages of this process.
What is grief?
Grief is a process that begins with the loss of a loved one. A similar feeling also arises when you lose an affective bond or contact with an experience you were used to, such as work.
The bereaved person enters a state of withdrawal, where he goes through a complex emotional trajectory , right after the loss. During this time, it is common for the bereaved person to appear to be always sad , have crying spells , refuse to leave the house, and lose interest in activities they once loved.
Likewise, she can feed a set of emotions and express them in ways that are not always rational, such as guilt, frustration , irritability, discouragement, anguish , fear and despair.
Although painful, this experience is necessary for her to regain contact with the outside world – work, social life, relationships and personal projects. Each individual goes through this trajectory in a unique way.
Depending on their personality, life experiences and ability to manage emotions, the grieving person may either succumb to bad feelings midway through or reach the acceptance stage naturally.
Regardless of the situation, the result should be the same: overcoming grief. Even if it takes years to get over the death of someone close, especially when living with that person was daily, you have to overcome it.
The five stages of grief
The first person to talk about the five stages of grief was the Swiss-American psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926 – 2004).
She has dedicated her career to studying the emotional reactions of terminally ill patients, mainly cancer and AIDS patients , listening to them in moments of loneliness and fear. Her goal was to humanize the treatment of these patients in hospitals and clinics, as well as to educate a new generation of physicians about the death and grief of family members.
In her book “About Death and Dying”, Elisabeth wrote about the five stages of grief. She interviewed patients and family members, seeking to understand their relationship with the imminence of death and acceptance of the loss.
The five stages of grief are not experienced linearly, as is commonly believed. Each bereaved individual goes through this experience in a unique way , according to their emotional skills and life story. There are no rules for experiencing grief.
In addition, according to Elisabeth's research, the person who has a terminal illness also goes through the mourning process until they accept their condition. Therefore, the five stages below also fit this scenario.
Normally, the immediate reaction upon hearing the news of the death of a loved one is to reject it. The bereaved person does not believe or want to try to believe in the possibility of having lost a loved one, so he rejects reality itself. “It's impossible!” she thinks constantly.
Denial, in this case, aims to protect you from an inconvenient truth , which can disrupt you psychologically. Thus, this stage of grief can take minutes, days or weeks to pass.
It is common for the bereaved person to seek social isolation and distance from everything that reminds the individual who left during this period.
Feelings of anger , anguish, despair, fear , guilt and frustration manifest constantly. This turmoil dominates the bereaved person's mind, making him/her behave harshly and unpleasantly. When someone tries to bring her to reality, she reacts with aggression, still unable to accept the loss.
It is possible for the grieving person to express their anger through self-destructive actions, such as drinking excessively, fighting with strangers and destroying other people's property. As she is distraught, she doesn't understand the gravity of her actions.
3. Bargain or Negotiation
This phase of mourning is constituted by negotiations. The bereaved person negotiates with himself or with the superior entity he believes in in a desperate attempt to alleviate his pain. Several thoughts of “what if I had done that” or “if I do X thing, I can reverse the situation” surround the mind of the person in mourning. Even though she is aware of the impossibility of these feats, she feeds them to console herself.
One of the five most intense stages of grief is depression. The person is affected by great suffering, which can last for weeks or months. She clings to the pain caused by the departure of the loved one, using it as fuel to remain in a depressed state.
Thus, the bereaved person cries copiously, rethinks their decisions and life experiences, isolates themselves from family and friends, has bouts of homesickness and is unable to return to normal life in the same way as before.
This stage of grief requires a lot of conversation and support from close people, as well as psychological follow-up . The grieving person may end up developing a deep depression disorder and not being able to reach the death acceptance stage.
Acceptance is the last stage of grief, even when the experience is not linear. It is at this moment that the bereaved person understands his new reality, constituted by the absence of the one who left. Feelings and anguish have already been externalized, resulting in a sense of inner peace.
Accepting the loss does not mean going on with life as if the loved one had never existed. It's not forgetting the good times shared with her or burying warm memories in a corner of the mind. Longing will still stir emotions and the loved one will still visit the thoughts, even years after their departure.
Accepting means living peacefully with the loss. It's the same as remembering the person who left with affection, being grateful for having participated in your life, understanding that you have to continue living even without their presence and understanding the finitude of life.
Acceptance can be worked on long before grief begins.
Although it is difficult to accept that life will one day cease, we need to do so in order to better deal with our losses. After all, nothing is written. Although it is common to expect the end only when we reach old age, we are all susceptible to meeting it at any time.
So hug, kiss, say “I love you”, fall in love, lose shame and live according to your desires and values so you don't regret it later. Also, talk about death without fear in order to get used to the imminent departure of loved ones.
How to deal with grief?
When we talk about dealing with grief, different opinions arise. There are those who believe that it is not healthy to indulge in it. There are those who believe that it is not possible to find inner tranquility without going through the five stages of grief.
So what's the right answer?
A little of each thought. The grieving process is not pathological. It is an expected emotional response in a loss situation. Experiencing grief is the right of all people, regardless of the degree of kinship or affinity with the departed.
The five stages of grief are necessary for the grieving person to understand the magnitude of their loss, express feelings and ultimately find peace.
However, not everyone is able to go through all five stages of grief naturally. As they need to manage many emotions at the same time, the bereaved person may feel overwhelmed. It may take years for her to be able to process the loss.
In this case, the person can go to therapy.
The psychologist has the role of helping the bereaved person navigate through the stages of grief. He guides her to make use of her inner capacities to finally reach the point of accepting the loss. From then on, she manages to draw up new plans and goals for her life.
Therefore, therapy is an effective tool to ease the experience of grief. If you are going through difficult times after the loss of a loved one, seek professional help to process grief and rebuild.