The loss of a loved one can be one of the most difficult events anyone has to face in their life. Whether coping with the loss of a parent, a child, a sibling, or even a close friend, loss can bring up a myriad of feelings and strong reactions. It has the capacity to change how one looks at the world, themselves, and those around them. For these reasons, when coping with a loss, or when helping someone close to you cope with loss, it can be helpful to know what to expect and what signs and symptoms may indicate that someone is experiencing prolonged or complicated grief; a process in which grieving can be debilitating and disrupt one’s ability to engage in and resume normal activities and responsibilities. A state in which grief counseling may be a necessary component in the healing process.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her hallmark book “On Death and Dying” identified 5 typical stages of grief. While there is believed to be a significant amount of variability within peoples’ grieving processes and in what order these stages occur (based on their own personality traits and the nature of the relationship with the person who has died), they can be helpful as a general guide to what to expect during the grieving process.
Stages of Grief
Denial: In the first stage of grief, the person does not want to accept that the loss will occur or has occurred and so creates a false sense of the person still being alive, or the tragic event not having happening. At this stage, the loss is too painful to accept. People in this stage will often not want to talk about the loss, or act as if it did not occur.
Anger: People who have experienced a loss can often be heard saying, or hear themselves saying things such as “Why me?” Or “this isn’t fair, it should have happened to someone else.” In the anger stage, the denial previously enacted can no longer shield them from the reality of the loss and one may react with anger or frustration, especially towards those closest to them.
Bargaining: This stage of grief is akin to a relationship breaking up and one partner saying to the other, “Can we still be friends?” It is one last attempt to avoid the loss, or magically bring the person back. While this approach can be useful in helping one to cope (“there is still some hope in not experiencing this loss.”) it, of course, is futile and leads to the next stage… depression.
Depression: In this stage of grief, one begins to understand the certainty and unavoidability of death. With this come feelings (at times very strong feelings) of sadness, fear, loss of meaning or motivation. While it is natural and even healthy to feel these feelings, it is often in the depression stage that one gets stuck and can remain in for some time, especially if the reality of the loss is not fully integrated and accepted.
Acceptance: When worked through effectively, the last stage of grief, acceptance, brings a feeling that “things will be ok” or “even though I miss them, my life will go on and I can be happy [joyous, content, loved, etc.] again.” It is not a denial of the loss, but an acceptance that it happened and life can go on.
For the individual experiencing loss, grief, and bereavement, grief counseling can oftentimes be helpful in working through the stages of grief in healthy and effective ways. At City Psychology Group, our goal is to help our clients validate the many negative and confusing feelings they may be experiencing while working towards a place of acceptance and personal well-being. We also work with couples whose relationships may be impacted by the loss of a loved one. Please do not hesitate to call or email us if you are interested in grief counseling, and feel you would like to speak with someone about a loss you or a loved one has experienced.