When you lose someone you love, it’s extremely hard to imagine life without them. The loss reaches deep into your heart and mind and can almost consume you. Every loss comes with pain and there will be many adjustments that will have to be made. Knowing about the 7 stages of grief might help you work your way through the loss to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel again.
I am sure you will agree with me that 2020 was an extremely tough year for all of us. Many of us have lost our loved ones and even now at the beginning of 2021 the number of deaths has skyrocketed and it is hitting closer and closer to home. Our family lost my father-in-law two weeks ago. It wasn’t due to COVID-19, but the rules and regulations in place at the hospital didn’t allow us to go visit him or say goodbye. He died alone. During his last few days on earth, he probably thought no one cared about him anymore or loved him. This thought has been eating us, especially my husband. Why did he have to go this way, why couldn’t we have the opportunity to get closure, say goodbye, and at least just tell him that he loved him?
In order to help my husband through this extremely difficult time I researched the seven stages of grief. If I can understand it better, then I will possibly be able to support him better. When one can identify the main emotions, aspects and stages it takes to grieve you will probably have more grace with yourself and with others who are going through this difficult and possibly unfamiliar time. The information about the seven stages is only a guideline and there is no specific order as to how you go through them. It will be different for every person.
It is important to grieve the death of someone. It is known besides divorce and moving homes, that death is one of the 3 most traumatic events in life that you can go through. So, ensure you are working through the stages to heal, make peace and continue with your life. It is not healthy to grieve forever. That will steal your joy and you won’t be able to live your own life to the fullest. Take the time to work through these emotions and set yourself free from grief.
Each stage should be interpreted individually with an expectation that it might vary per your experience. There is no straight or set progression from one stage to the next one. Your experience might be that you keep going back and forth between stages; they can maybe hit you at the exact same time or they can occur in a completely different order than what is listed here. This is why you should be informed, be open for variation of the stages and make sure you go through each stage, no matter how or where or how long it takes.
What Does Grief Feel Like?
The process of going through the various stages of grief can be quite an extensive mourning process. It is not easy to lose a loved one and dealing with the loss is very difficult. The range of emotions that one can go through can be anything from anger, sadness, confusion, loneliness, resentment, and also relief.
Every single person grieves differently. The seven stages of grief can help you understand how people go through the grieving process. There are a lot of emotions one has to deal with while grieving and it is tough for any person to go through.
What Are The 7 Stages of Grief?
1. Shock & Denial
When you learn about the loss of a loved one your response will probably firstly be numbed disbelief. To avoid the initial pain, denying the reality of the loss can help you cope with it. Maybe for weeks, the shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed by all the emotions you feel at once. It can be daunting to realise someone you care for isn’t there anymore, especially if you have recently seen the person or even spoken to them minutes before.
When someone has committed suicide, shock and denial is one of the biggest stages that people go through while they process the news. It is also one of the most important stages to work through to ensure you can survive the loss.
During the stage of shock and denial, the following emotions can be experienced: mourning, sadness, disbelief, confusion and discomfort.
2. Pain & Guilt
When the shock wears off, unbelievable pain and suffering replaces the shock. This pain will feel insufferable and close to unbearable. The important part is to experience the pain completely. Do not hide it, don’t try to avoid or escape it. Some people will try to escape it by using drugs or alcohol. Please don’t go down that route as that won’t allow you to go through the pain, you will just be avoiding it. That will cause you to take much longer to work through this stage.
Your life will feel pretty much upside down now. Guilt or remorse might creep up on you over things you could have done, didn’t do or did do to or with your loved one. During this stage everything might seem chaotic and scary, like you have no idea whether you are coming or going.
After an affair, this stage of pain and guilt might be the one most dominant.
During the stage of pain and guilt, the following emotions can be experienced: guilt, sadness, disbelief, betrayal and desperation.
3. Anger & Bargaining
When we are angry and frustrated, we tend to lash out and during grief it is common to blame someone else for the death of a loved one. This blame can be unjustified or unwarranted. Putting unwarranted blame on someone else can cause deep and possibly even permanent damage to a relationship. The questions of “Why me?” or “Why now?” or “Why them?” can creep up. You may also start bargaining with higher powers to find a way out of feeling hopeless and despair. You might say “I will never lie again, or I will never drink again if you can please bring her back.”
At this point it can be very beneficial to go for grief counselling, if you are ready for it. Counselling is there to support you and talk through aspects that can help to release your emotions. Counselling also provides perspective. Releasing and working through what you are feeling is the best way to make peace with your loss and to be able to move on in the future.
During the stage of anger and bargaining, the following emotions can be experienced: Bargaining, resentment, anger and stubbornness.
4. Depression, Reflection, Loneliness
It is very hard for outsiders to understand what you are going through during all the stages of grief. At some point people in your life, family members or friends could think or even expect that you should be able to move on with your life by now. A long period of sadness and reflection will probably arise. People might try to ‘talk you out’ of this stage but it is normal to experience extreme sadness. It will become clear what the extent of your loss is, and it will be depressing. The realization that your loved one is gone forever, and you won’t be able to spend time with them again is heart breaking. Loneliness can start to creep in. This could be the stage where you choose to isolate yourself, look back on your memories with your loved one and reflect on the things you used to do together. Feelings of emptiness and despair could be overwhelming you at this point in time.
During the stage of depression, reflection and loneliness, the following emotions can be experienced: Depression, despair, frustration and heartbroken.
5. The Upward Turn
As time has passed and life without your loved one has become more bearable, things will start to feel a little lighter. You will feel calmer and that there is more structure in your life again. Physically your feelings of depression will lift slightly.
Throughout the grieving process, this part is where the light at the end of the tunnel becomes clearer for you. You will be over the hump in the road, almost at the end of the grieving process and you realize that you can build your life going forward, without your loved one.
During the stage of the upward turn, the following emotions can be experienced: Awakening, strengthened and motivated.
6. Reconstruction & Working Through It
As your life starts to go back to normal and you feel that you can function again you will be able to deal with life’s to-do list. Your mind will start to operate again like it usually did. Like being able to handle challenges, finding realistic solutions to situations or problems like you used to do before you lost your loved one. When you can handle this again you will be able to reconstruct and maybe even review and improve the way you want to live from now on. Life will be different now without your loved one, but you should take the good from the memories you have with them and try to use it to live your best life going forward.
During the stage of reconstruction and working through it, the following emotions can be experienced: Inspired, revitalized, determined.
7. Acceptance & Hope
The last stage of the seven stages of the grief model is the one where you really see the light at the end of the tunnel. You are now able to learn to accept and deal with your loss and the reality of your situation. Even though one would think during this stage instant happiness would occur, but there is no such thing as instant happiness. Acceptance on the other hand is the way you can get happiness back into your life.
The pain and chaos that you have been through has turned life almost upside down. You won’t be able to be the exact same person you were before this loss, but you will be able to live your life again and find a way forward. Your future will start to look exciting again and to plan and live life will be a little be easier than before and also good for the soul.
The good part about the acceptance stage is that the extreme pain you have felt all this time won’t be so intense anymore. You will still feel sad about the loved one you’ve lost, but the pain won’t be there anymore. You will probably also be able to talk about your loved one without having an emotional breakdown every time. You will start believing, seeing and experiencing good times in life again and joy will also return in your life. Once you have reached the seventh stage of grief you have basically freed your life from a lifetime of unhappiness and pain. Therefore, it really is extremely important to deal with your loss.
During the stage of acceptance and hope, the following emotions can be experienced: Hopeful, comforted, secured, relaxed.
When your loved one passes away, the grief that you have to deal with is one of the most difficult emotions one has to try to comprehend and figure out. It depends on the death of the person (how they died) where you might start in the list. Just because they are listed as 1-7 stages, doesn’t mean you have to experience and feel them in that exact order.
Understanding the seven stages of grief is quite important because all of us will lose a loved one at some point in our lives. If we can understand the process, we could help ourselves through the process more easily, and of course you will be able to help another loved one with their loss. May this information carry you through the loss of your loved one.