by Maria Lebron, March 2020
At some point, everyone will experience some type of grief and loss. You may have experienced the loss of a loved one, friend, or colleague. You may have experienced the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of a home, the loss of a community, the loss of some physical or mental capacity, etc.
The grief resulting from a loss will be experienced differently by each person and doesn’t follow any type of linear progression or timetable. However, in 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist, published “On Death and Dying” and concluded based on her work with terminally ill individuals that commonalities could be found in people experiencing grief and loss. Kübler-Ross developed a model containing five stages, which can also be adapted to understand how people experience losses other than illness or death.
Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not everyone will experience all stages, and the stages may not be experienced in any particular order. You may stay in one stage for a longer period than another or you may jump from one stage to another and then back again.
In November, 2019, David Kessler published “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief,” which he co-authored with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. They added a sixth stage — finding meaning — which I will include as I feel it is experienced by many people who suffer loss.
The Six Stages of Grief and Loss
DENIAL: Grief and loss can be overwhelming, and as a result there may be a need to deny the reality of the situation before you can move past the shock and denial and allow yourself to feel your emotions.
In the denial stage, you may feel numb and the world may feel meaningless. You may wonder how you can carry on and manage. The denial may initially be necessary in order to find a way to get through each day and allow yourself the space needed to accept the reality of the loss. Once the denial fades away, you will begin to experience the feelings you were unable to allow yourself to feel before.
ANGER: Anger can hide many emotions and pain that you are unable to endure at this stage. This anger may be directed at other people, even those who are not to blame. The anger may manifest in feelings of resentment. There may even be anger at a God or higher power who would allow you to suffer. The anger may make you feel some power at a time when you feel powerless.
BARGAINING: Bargaining can be a way to try to gain some control over a situation which makes you feel vulnerable and helpless. In the bargaining stage, there will be a looking back at the past. Feelings of “what if” or “if only” come up in an effort to understand where things went wrong. Sometimes there may be feelings of guilt when looking back at things which could have been done. In some cases, people may try to make a bargain with God or a higher power in order to avoid an outcome. The bargaining is made in order to avoid sadness, pain, and confusion.
DEPRESSION: At this stage, you are beginning to accept the inevitable loss. Grief is felt on a deeper level. There may be a desire to withdraw or isolate and feelings of intense sadness and grief are being processed. Feeling depressed about a loss is a natural process, however, if it leaves you feeling too overwhelmed or unable to function, it would be helpful to seek support or professional help during this time.
ACCEPTANCE: This stage doesn’t imply there won’t continue to be feelings of sadness or that there won’t be some bad days ahead. At this stage, the fact that the loss is permanent has been fully accepted. You now understand your life needs to change as a result of the loss. You will begin to feel some hope that there will be a new way to live without the loss. This is a time where there is an opportunity for growth and change in order to get your needs met.
FINDING MEANING: This stage goes beyond acceptance by trying to find some personal meaning from the loss. This is a difficult stage to map because it will be different for everyone. For some, this stage may not involve major life altering changes, but for others, it may drastically change the way they live their lives and maintain their relationships. Whether the change is big or small, one is impacted by the loss in a way which will cause them to change their perspective, ambitions, or view of the world. A lot of growth can come from trying to find some meaning out of a loss. It’s a way of making something transformative out of something which was so painful.