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Everyone reading this has experienced grief or will do so eventually. It is a normal and inescapable part of the human condition. With this inevitability in mind, it makes sense that we’d want to learn more and prepare, if possible. But how?

Most people reading this have probably heard of the stages of grief. Swiss psychologist, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross first wrote about this concept in 1969. The idea was initially meant to describe the stages a terminally ill person went through. Over time, the stages were applied to grief in general. This has caused some confusion so let’s take a closer look at this unavoidable experience.

The 5 Stages of Grief

Denial

Upon hearing the bad news, it’s not unusual to go into a state of shock. You may wonder if you will even survive such a loss. Denial, paradoxically, eases the stress of this initial stage. You cannot function if life suddenly no longer makes sense. So, you push reality out of your mind. You pray that there’s been some terrible mistake. This stage can help create a cushion from which you can gather the fortitude needed to deal with your grief.

Anger

If the loss of a loved one feels unfair or even cruel, you are definitely not alone. It can bring out anger in you. You may feel mad at yourself or at the person who died. In some cases, your rage may be reserved for God. Obviously, anger can be a very disturbing experience but you probably need to feel it in such an extreme scenario. Also, anger brings us very much “back to reality.” Feeling it can serve as a bridge away from the denial discussed above.

Bargaining

A kind of desperation can set in. We convince ourselves that we can negotiate ourselves out of the pain. If someone we love gets a terminal diagnosis, we bargain with God (or whatever higher power we choose). If our loved one is spared, we’ll give something in return. Once the person has passed, we bargain with ourselves. If you do this or that, you tell yourself, you will feel better. Guilt is a common companion during this stage as you berate yourself for not doing more to prevent the tragedy.

Depression

There’s a good reason why depression is associated with grief. Mourning is a time of profound sorrow and loss. It may feel like it never ends and gives you a sense that life no longer has meaning. A person in this stage may withdraw from others, have difficulty with daily functioning, and even have thoughts of their own death.

Acceptance

Humans are incredibly resilient. In the face of heartbreaking loss, we can find ways to accept reality and move forward. It does not mean you don’t miss the person. You will always have bad days but you also accept the waves. Don’t assume this means you will “get over” your loss. You’ll just find a new path to follow while the deceased person remains in your heart.

Are The Stages Followed In Order?

Short answer: no. Grief — like all emotions — is not linear. Kübler-Ross warned us that there is no singular order of grief stages. Rather, she designed her work to help us understand and manage what we feel right now. Keep in mind:

  • Everyone grieves differently
  • You can be triggered back into any of the stages at any point
  • How your grieve or how long you grieve is not a statement about your relationship with the person you lost

Therapy can very much help with the grieving process. If you feel lost or confused after suffering a loss, please reach out for help from a skilled professional. Grief counseling can help you find a way forward.

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Therapy for Men is a practice led by Dr. Rick Pomfret which offers counseling and psychotherapy services tailored to the needs of men. Their services encompass anxiety therapy, depression therapy, relationship therapy, men’s issues and support for those navigating life transitions or divorce. With offices in San Francisco and Corte Madera, Therapy4Men provides convenient access to mental health care for men in the Bay Area and online across California.