Getting a divorce, losing a job, being diagnosed with cancer, all these situations can cause one to feel overwhelmed and deeply saddened. Yet, nothing compares to the loss of a loved one. It will take some time for you to process the loss of someone you hold dear and close to your heart. It is in this situation that you go through the 7 stages of grief. By learning about the 7 stages of grief, you can be there for your loved ones in their times of grief.
The progression from one stage to the next is not simple, nor is it easy. Moreover, the stages do not necessarily occur in a defined sequence. Each person reacts to grief differently, which is why the stages may occur in a different order and to a different degree. It is also possible that several stages of grief occur at the same time and the person may even fall back on any of the stages he/she has already passed. By understanding the 7 stages of grief you will be able to identify and confront how you or a loved is one is feeling when coping with grief.
It is possible that a grieving person becomes depressed, lonely and isolated several months after the loss. This is a common symptom. Outside pressure may feel overwhelming at times. It is OK and acceptable to want to be left alone in order to cope with the loss on your own.
In time, it starts to sink in that someone very close has been lost forever.
It is possible that one person takes longer to deal with each of the 7 stages of grief than another. So, if you think that your friend is taking longer to get over the loss, be patient. It is completely normal for such a thing to happen. A person must go through all these stages to cope with the situation and feel better. It is important that he/she does not get stuck at any particular stage and completes the progression.
Here are the 7 stages of grief:
1. Shock and Disbelief
It is natural to be shocked at a loved one’s departure, particularly if it was a sudden and unexpected loss. A person goes through several emotional and physical reactions when in a state of shock. Some of these include nausea, dizziness, emptiness and numbness. It is possible that a person does not feel anything upon hearing the news or behaves in a strange manner. For instance, the person may start laughing hysterically, which does not seem like a natural reaction to someone’s passing. In time, it starts to sink in that someone very close has been lost forever, which will surface other emotions.
While still recovering from the shock, the grieving person may go into a state of denial. A sub-state of shock, denial is a condition when a person refuses to accept what has happened. When a person loses a loved one, he/she may completely deny the reality to avoid pain. There is no crying, nor is there any reaction to the loss. In fact, the loss is not accepted or even acknowledged. Such behavior may offer temporary emotional protection and may last for weeks in extreme cases.
As the shock and denial wears off, the person may enter the stage of deep pain and guilt. The reality has sunk in and the void left by the loved one’s departure is being felt. It is important not to hide from this pain in order to overcome it. A person may try to avoid the unbearable pain by using drugs or alcohol, to escape from the reality. They may begin to feel that life has become scary, chaotic and difficult to manage.
A grieving person may lash out at the people around him/her, questioning the reality, ‘why is this happening to me’. All bottled up emotions are released. The person may even search for targets to lash out at. It is important to understand that such behavior is to be expected. Otherwise it may destroy your relationship with the person going through grief.
Bargaining is the stage where the person in grief is full of guilt. He/she feels completely vulnerable and tries to get the control back. The grieving person may talk about the difficulties in his/her relationship with the person who has passed away. The word ‘if’ is often repeated again and again. “If only we did not fight as much as we did.” “If only I was a bit more empathetic.” “If only we went to a better doctor.” It is as if the person starts blaming him/herself for the death.
A person in grief often goes in and out of depression. The person is overwhelmed by feelings such as self pity, hopelessness, bitterness and frustration. It is a period of sad reflection where he/she may seek complete isolation and feel extremely lonely due to the loss. Encouragement offered by others may not be effective and the magnitude of the loss is finally realized.
Acceptance is the final stage- the point where the grieving person finally accepts the reality of what has happened. Acceptance is a positive stage. It is not the same as resignation or feeling defeated. In this stage the grieving person realizes that ‘It (the loss) is something that was going to happen and was not in my control’. Moreover, he/she decides to move on in life and even tries to plan for the future. The loss of the loved one, though still upsetting, is no longer felt with the unbearable pain experienced earlier.
Oftentimes, it is difficult for a person to fully heal from the grief without experiencing these 7 stages of grief. More often than not, people have no one to turn to in their time of grief as other people don’t know how to react and deal with the situation. By knowing about these stages of grief, you can provide the support your loved ones need when they are grieving.
If you have any tips for overcoming loss and dealing with grief, let us know in the comments!