The Five Stages of Grief Explained

Posted: 02/03/2018

You may have heard of the five stages of grief before – it is a common concept. The five stages of grief in order (according to the theory) are said to be:

  1. Denial and isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. And finally, acceptance

However, it is not realistic to say that everyone going through grief will go through all of these stages or experience them in the same order as listed above. Keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Some people will be far more open about how they are feeling, whereas will experience their grief more internally and may not show much outward despair.

The stages of grief and mourning are said to be universal – meaning that they are experienced by people from all walks of life, religions, cultures and societies. Whilst different cultures have different rituals surround grief and mourning, the emotions remain constant throughout society.

During the grieving process, we find ourselves spending different lengths of time trying to work through each and every step. We may express certain stages with different levels of intensity. For example, you may find yourself getting extremely angry in the light of someone’s death but feel little to no feelings of denial about the situation.

It is said that the grieving process is necessary for us to come to terms with our own mortality, to evaluate and understand the meaning and realities of death. It is commonly said that “where there is life, there is hope and where there is hope, there is life”. This theme of hope emerges as we move through the stages of grief.

Stage One: Denial and Isolation

Typically, the first reaction most of us will have when we learn about a terminal illness or death of a loved one is to deny the reality and the extent of the situation to ourselves. People often initially think “this is not happening, it cannot be happening” when they hear of some distressing news. This is completely normal when you have had a shock to the system. We all need time to process and rationalise overwhelming emotions as they happen.

In biological terms, denial is a defence mechanism which cushions the immediate shock of loss. For most people who are going through the grieving process, this stage is a temporary reaction which will carry us through the initial wave of pain.

Stage Two: Anger

anger

As the effects of denial wear off, it is normal for people to feel angry about a loss of a close friend or family member.

Interesting, the anger may actually be directed at the deceased. When thinking rationally, we know they are not to blamed but we begin to resent the person for leaving us and causing us so much pain. Furthermore, we are angry at ourselves as a result of feeling guilty for being angry at the deceased.

Stage Three: Bargaining

Next comes feelings of vulnerability and hopelessness. This is usually our brain’s way of trying to regain control over a situation. This can involve thoughts which go back and forth between the “what ifs” or “if only”.

Typically, people begin to believe they could have done something different to have helped the deceased, and internally make a deal with God or a high power in an attempt to get rid of the pain and have their loved one back.

Stage Four: Depression

depression

There are two types of depression which are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction based on the practical implications which relate to the loss faced. We will worry about the costs of the funeral and that we have been spending less time with others as a result of our loss, for example.

The second is the type of depression which is a little more subtle and private. It is a time of sorrow and personal struggle but is based on pain associated with the death directly.

Stage Five: Acceptance

The final step is a positive one. It is said that reaching the fifth stage of grief is not a gift given to everyone and this can take a long, long time to get to. The death may be so sudden that we never truly move past the stages of denial or anger.

Acceptance is not marked by a period of happiness, rather a period of withdrawal and calm. Coming to this stage can help us process the concept of death and our own mortality.

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