We all will have to deal with loss and grief at some point in life. If you are dealing with loss, it can be helpful to learn more about the grieving process and 5 stages of grief.

It’s important to remember that the grieving process can be complex, and it isn’t the same for everyone.

These steps may not all be present or in any particular order, or other feelings may surface after you thought you were through stages of grieving.

Allowing room to experience grief in your own way can help you heal after loss.

What are the 5 stages of grief?

Denial

In the first stage of the grieving process, denial helps us minimise the overwhelming pain of loss. As we process the reality of our loss, we are also trying to survive emotional pain.

It can be hard to believe we have lost an important person in our lives, especially when we may have just spoken with them the previous week or even the previous day.

Denial is not only an attempt to pretend that the loss does not exist. We are also trying to absorb and understand what is happening.

During this stage in grieving, our reality has shifted completely. It can take our minds time to adjust to our new reality. We reflect on the experiences we’ve shared with the person we lost, and we might find ourselves wondering how to move forward in life without this person.

This is a lot of information to explore and a lot of painful imagery to process. Denial attempts to slow this process down and take us through it one step at a time, rather than risk the potential of feeling overwhelmed by our emotions.

Anger

The second stage in grieving is anger. We are trying to adjust to a new reality and are likely experiencing extreme emotional discomfort. There is so much to process that anger may feel like it allows us an emotional outlet.

Keep in mind that anger does not require us to be very vulnerable. However, it may feel more socially acceptable than admitting we are scared. Anger allows us to express emotion with less fear of judgment or rejection.

Anger also tends to be the first thing we feel when starting to release emotions related to loss. This can leave us feeling isolated in our experience. It can also cause us to be perceived as unapproachable by others in moments when we could benefit from comfort, connection, and reassurance.

Bargaining

When coping with loss, it isn’t unusual to feel so desperate that you are willing to do anything to alleviate or minimize the pain. During this stage in grieving, you may try to bargain to change the situation, agreeing to do something in return for being relieved of the pain you feel.

When bargaining starts to take place, we often direct our requests to a higher power, or something bigger than us that may be able to influence a different outcome. Bargaining during the grieving process can come in the form of a variety of promises, including:

  • “God, if you can heal this person, I will turn my life around.”
  • “I promise to be better if you will let this person live.”
  • “I’ll never get angry again if you can stop him/her from dying or leaving me.”

There is an acute awareness of our humanness in this stage of grieving; when we realize that there is nothing we can do to influence change or create a better end result.

Bargaining comes from a feeling of helplessness and gives us a perceived sense of control over something that feels so out of control. During bargaining, we tend to focus on our personal faults or regrets. We might look back at our interactions with the person we are losing and note all the times we felt disconnected or may have caused them pain.

It is common to recall times when we may have said things we did not mean and wish we could go back and behave differently. We also sometimes make the drastic assumption that if things had played out differently, we would not be in such an emotionally painful place in our lives.

Depression

During our experience of processing grief, there comes a time when our imaginations calm down and we slowly start to look at the reality of our present situation. Bargaining no longer feels like an option and we are faced with what is happening.

In this stage of grieving, we start to feel the loss of our loved one more abundantly. Our panic begins to subside, the emotional fog begins to clear, and the loss feels more present and unavoidable.

In those moments, we tend to pull inward as the sadness grows. We might find ourselves retreating, being less sociable, and reaching out less to others about what we are going through. Although this is a very natural stage in the grieving process, dealing with depression after the loss of a loved one can be extremely isolating and one of the most difficult stages.

Acceptance

The last of the 5 Stages of Grief is acceptance. When we come to a place of acceptance, it is not that we no longer feel the pain of loss. Instead, we are no longer resisting the reality of our situation, and we are not struggling to make it something different.

Sadness and regret can still be present in this phase. But the emotional survival tactics of denial, bargaining, and anger are less likely to be present during this phase of the grieving process.

How Long Do Grief Stages Last?

There is no specific time period for any of these stages. One person may experience the stages quickly, such as in a matter of weeks, whereas another person may take months or even years to move through the stages of grieving. Whatever time it takes for you to move through these stages is perfectly normal.

It can be difficult to know what to say or do when someone has experienced loss. We do our best to offer comfort, but sometimes our best efforts can feel inadequate and unhelpful.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if someone you love is going through the stages in grieving:

  • Avoid rescuing or fixing. In an attempt to be helpful, we may offer uplifting, hopeful comments or even humor to try to ease their pain or “fix them.” Although the intention is good, this approach can leave people feeling as if their pain is not seen, heard, or valid.
  • Don’t force it. We may want so badly to help and for the person to feel better, so we believe that nudging them to talk and process their emotions before they’re truly ready will help them faster. This is not necessarily true and can actually be an obstacle to their healing.
  • Make yourself accessible. Offer space for people to grieve. This lets the person know we’re available when they’re ready. We can invite them to talk with us but remember to provide understanding and validation if they are not ready just yet. Remind them that you’re there and not to hesitate to come to you.