Five Stages of Grief, Part 1

We've probably all heard of the five stages of grief-denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. A psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first mentioned them in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, but they've probably been around in some form ever since the world began. She never meant to put such a complicated, emotional thing in a neat little array, but they are a basic idea of what someone can expect to go through when they experience a loss. Despite the title of the book, this loss doesn't have to be a death in the family. It can be the death of a beloved pet, loss of a job you loved, a divorce, a miscarriage, a major financial loss-anything you loved that has been taken from you. Of course, everything depends on the person; no two losses are exactly alike, so no two reactions are exactly alike. However, here are the basic stages. In the interest of brevity, I'm going to go over them in two separate posts.

One important thing to remember is that there's no 'right way' or 'wrong way' to grieve. It's not that you have to go through every stage in order like rungs on a ladder so much as that knowing them is a good way to sort of 'prepare' yourself for the changes that are going to happen in your life. The only real guarantee is that changes will happen, so we have to learn to deal with them.

Denial- This stage helps us to survive the loss. It doesn't mean that you think the loss didn't happen, just that you're numb. It's kind of a 'shock' to cushion the blow. If you think about it, this makes sense-how else are you going to be able to get out of bed in the morning, deal with funeral arrangements or prepare for what comes next? You're either on hyperdrive ('I've got to sign the papers, find something to wear to the funeral, get the house ready for the wake, etc') or wondering, 'What just happened?' You know what happened, it just hasn't hit you yet.

Anger-This is what happens when that initial shock wears off. You go from not feeling anything to feeling everything. The deep sense of pain comes out in the form of anger because anger gives us a structure- a 'name' to put to what we're feeling. Angry at God, angry at the doctor who couldn't cure the disease, angry at the person who died, angry at the spouse that left you or the person they left you for, angry at the driver of the car the person was in, angry at the car itself-you get the idea. It's not going to be rational anger most of the time; after all, a car only does what the driver tells it to do and doctors can only do so much. Even so, it's a way to get the feelings out of the way so that you can begin to heal.

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