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Five Stages of Grief

The Five Stages of Grief theory, initially introduced in 1969 by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her seminal book “On Death and Dying,” is at the cornerstone of how many people today understand the process of grieving. Later refined by Kübler-Ross’ co-author David Kessler, the stages of grief were formulated in acknowledgment of how patients responded to a terminal illness diagnosis. Since that time, it has become widely used in discussing how people process an array of different types of loss, including how they deal with the death of a loved one. Read on as Titan Casket explores the five stages of grief. 

Table of Contents

  1. What are the Five Stages of Grief?
  2. The Denial Stage of Grief
  3. The Anger Stage of Grief
  4. The Bargaining Stage of Grief
  5. The Depression Stage of Grief
  6. The Acceptance Stage of Grief
  7. Are Their Alternative Grief Models?

What are the Five Stages of Grief?

The five stages of grief in the Kübler-Ross model are typically described as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages are said to reflect the process in which people experience and heal during the grief cycle. Every person experiences grief in a way that is unique to their situation, and those grieving do not necessarily follow this exact model. It is not uncommon for people to return to previous stages of grief before moving on or skip a stage. There is no specific timeline for the grief journey.

Let’s briefly explore each stage of grief according to Kübler-Ross.

The Denial Stage of Grief

When initially confronted with a loss, your instinct may be to deny that it has occurred. The denial stage of grief is a protective measure to shield you from the overwhelming emotions associated with death, dying or other profound loss. It’s not uncommon for those going through denial to exhibit signs of shock as the life they knew has suddenly and permanently changed. Denial can come at the loss of a loved one, a terminal illness diagnosis, or the sudden loss of a relationship or career. You may believe that some mistake has been made and that the reality being offered to you is not accurate or real. Instead, you may grab onto alternative explanations that are preferable to accepting the information you are being given during the denial stage. This is a normal reaction, and often the bereaved needs some additional time to process the new situation.

The Anger Stage of Grief

At times signified by fury, at other times marked by frustration, the anger stage of grief may find you asking questions like “How could this happen?” or lashing out at the perceived unfairness of the loss. Anger could be directed at the deceased for leaving, at doctors for not saving a loved one, or it can turn inward. You may blame the universe or become angry at a higher power. Once someone has accepted the reality of the loss, the experience can be so profound that anger is the only way to connect you to the world. It’s a natural step, and, as long as it isn’t destructive, it can be a critical phase in handling the loss.

The Bargaining Stage of Grief

It’s natural to feel helpless or at-sea as the intense emotions surrounding loss wash over you. Bargaining begins as a way of trying to shield yourself from a grief event. Those who are religious may try to make promises to God if their loved one is healed. A person may believe that by making large-scale changes in their life or their behaviors that somehow the loss they are facing won’t take place or will somehow be lessened. Others may experience deep feelings of guilt during the bargaining stage of grief, as they grapple with complicated “what if” questions. For example, “what if I had taken him to the doctor sooner?” 

The Depression Stage of Grief

An all-encompassing sensation of emptiness may settle over the bereaved during the depression stage of grief. The deep feelings of sadness that arrive in this stage are most commonly associated with grief, as it comes when someone acknowledges the reality of loss. Numbness, lethargy, brain fog, and a desire to isolate may all be signs of the depression stage. This is a natural reaction to the intense change in your life and isn’t typically cause for concern unless it extends for a prolonged period or results in self-destructive thoughts or behaviors. Should this occur, you are encouraged to seek qualified professional help.

The Acceptance Stage of Grief

In the acceptance stage of grief, your emotional reactions to your situation have begun to stabilize. That doesn’t mean that you are not still in mourning or won’t have down days or angry days. Instead, this stage allows you to acknowledge the loss while understanding that you can manage it and move forward in a world that has been forever changed. Good days will mix with the sad days, and, at this time, you may find yourself reconnecting with friends and family and re-engaging with the world around you.

Are Their Alternative Grief Models?

Yes. A popular theory developed by British psychologist John Bowlby considers four stages of grief: shock and numbness, yearning and searching, despair and disorganization, and reorganization and recovery. His findings came as a result of studying infant development and attachments to caregivers, which created a baseline for how a person would later respond to profound loss. Another theory, this one developed by Lois Tonkin, suggests that while the initial loss can produce all-consuming feelings, someone can work through their bereavement by adapting and “growing around” the loss. 

The information provided above is not meant to replace expert medical or mental health advice. If you or someone you love is having difficulty coping with loss, please reach out to a qualified mental health professional.

Do you have other questions about the five stages of grief or any other issues relating to mourning and end-of-life services? Titan Casket is here to help you get the funeral you want at a fair price. Contact us in the chat window or here to get started.