Stages of Grief

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She originally applied these to any loss such as the loss of a job, finances, or marriage.

Other researchers studying the process of loss and grief have recognized these stages as well as the fact that they do not have to be experienced in any specific order but are all part of the grieving process. You may vacillate in and out of some stages before completing this part of the process.

Grief begins at the moment a loss is recognized, and often that is with the terminal diagnosis, long before death actually happens.

  1. Denial. Shock and disbelief that this is happening. Numbness and even a sense of isolation that takes over you and only for brief periods of time do you remember that your parent is dying or has died.

  2. Anger. Why me? You may even find yourself angry at your parent for leaving you or at yourself for wishing it would all end when you were so tired and exhausted you didn't think you could continue for another day.

  3. Bargaining. This is usually about making a compromise with God or other deity. Just let Mom live long enough to see her great grandson born and you'll never skip church again or your dad asks God to let him live a while longer and he'll promise to quit smoking.

  4. Depression. Becoming so sad that things just don't matter anymore. Feelings of hopelessness, sorrow, and despair overwhelm you.

  5. Acceptance. Coming to terms with reality. Death is part of life and cannot be avoided. It is okay to die. Or a feeling of calmness and peace that your loved one is no longer suffering and is at rest or peace, having gone on to a better place.

These stages can come in any order and can be intertwined. Each person will experience grief in her own way and in her own time. Some people will move through the grieving process quickly and others take much more time. Some will effectively remain in denial for a long time and put off their grieving. Sometimes, the person who feels he must remain strong for everyone else will delay his grieving for years. This is not necessarily healthy.

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