How many of us have lost a loved one to a terminal illness? Or has watched a friend go through such a process? How many times have you asked yourself how you can help yourself or your friend cope? The five stages of grief can be useful in understanding the strong feelings that might occur in such a situation; however, they do not necessarily stipulate what you should or should not feel.
In 1969, a psychiatrist named Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed a model describing the emotional stages a person goes through when they grief the loss of a loved one. Grief is an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss that person experiences, at many times it may stem from losing a loved one. Dr. Ross first came up with this postulation while observing and working with terminally-ill patients. Grief was felt by the terminally-ill patients who were facing death or their relatives who were losing someone to death. The five stages are there to be used as a road map to this sorrow and to help individuals cope with this intense feeling.
As stated by Dr. Ross, the five stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. These stages can be explained simply below.
Denial: You may have come across the expression “Denial is not just a river in Egypt” well it’s not. Denial, in this case, is an expression of shock and disbelief triggered by an unexpected encounter. Denial is a protective mechanism allowing you not to feel the full intensity of the pain.
Anger: Usually anger occurs when a person feels helpless or powerless about something. The anger here stems from the feeling of abandonment through losing a loved one to circumstances you can’t control. At times, anger can even be directed towards oneself.
Bargaining: This occurs when a person’s thoughts may be preoccupied with what could have been done to have prevented that loss. A person may bargain with God after knowing they had lost a loved one, asking God to revert time and in return they would change their way of life or do more good deeds.
Depression: Depression is often a constant severe feeling of sadness. There are many indicators that a person is depressed, they may include but are not exclusive to: sleep disorders, changes in appetite, lack of energy or uncontrolled crying. In all cases, depression needs to be diagnosed by a medical professional.
Acceptance: Is when a person comes into terms with their feeling of loss and starts integrating it as part of life’s experiences. Healing and making peace with the circumstance is closely associated with acceptance.
These five stages can be found thoroughly explained in psychology textbooks/seminars as well as, in the palliative care section of medical textbooks. When reading about these stages, you shall note that they do not necessarily occur in a predefined order, and the intensity and duration of each stage vary between one person and another. You might not even experience all the stages. These stages are merely a guideline to understanding grief but in the end, everyone grieves differently.
It is important to have support and express your feelings of sadness. Grief may seem like a prolonged roller coaster ride filled with heightened emotions, one good day followed by one bad day. That is okay because there is no right or wrong feeling or a time frame when grieving.
In her last days of life, Dr. Ross herself said the following about the stages of grief:
“They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”
“Stages of Grief: How to Cope With Grief and Loss.” WebMD. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-coping-with-grief>
“Coping with Grief and Loss.” Understanding the Grieving Process. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm>