The five stages of mourning
In “On Grief and Grieving,” a book I co-authored with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, she and I discuss how these steps have evolved since their introduction and how they have been greatly misunderstood over the past decades. People mistakenly think that they will put messy emotions in neat packages. But the emotions of grief reflect feelings and are beyond organization. They are organic responses to loss, and just as there are no typical losses, there are no typical responses to loss. The truth is, our grief is as individual as our lives.
The five stages of grief – denial, anger, negotiation, depression, and acceptance – are part of the framework that helps us learn to live without the person we have lost. They are tools to help us define and frame what we are feeling, but not to organize it. They are not stops on a linear grieving timeline. Not everyone goes through each one and there is not a prescribed order. They are as follows:
Denial in grief has been misinterpreted over the years. When Kübler-Ross introduced the denial stage, it focused on the person who was dying. In grieving after loss, denial is more symbolic than literal.
The fatality of death begins to creep in gradually. She won’t come back. This time he didn’t get through. With each realization of the truth, you begin to climb the mountain realizing that they are truly gone. As you come to terms with the reality of the loss and begin to question yourself, you subconsciously begin the healing process. You will become stronger as the denial begins to fade. But as you move forward, all of the feelings that you have denied start to surface.
Anger is a necessary part of the healing process. Be prepared to feel your anger. The more you really feel it, the more it will start to wear off and the faster you will heal. There are a lot of emotions under anger. You will discover them when the time is right, but anger is the emotion we are most used to dealing with. We choose her, often to avoid the underlying feelings, until we are ready to face them. It might sound exhausting, but as long as anger doesn’t consume you for a long period of time, it’s a legitimate part of your internal emotional management.
People may ask you to get through your anger quickly, but it’s important to remember that this is part of the grieving process. People may also feel that our anger is inappropriate, inappropriate or disproportionate. Some people may feel that your anger is too harsh or excessive. Don’t let anyone downplay the importance of fully feeling your anger. And don’t let anyone criticize your anger, not even you. We cannot change the reactions of others to our anger. All we can do is take care of ourselves.
People are often in conflict over grieving a parent for whom they have had negative feelings. The confusing grief that follows is that adult children cannot understand why they feel sad and angry with someone they don’t really like. We mourn those who took care of us as they should. We also cry for those who did not give us the love we deserved.
Before a death, it seems like you would do anything if only the loved one could be spared. After a death, negotiation can take the form of a temporary truce. We get lost in a labyrinth of phrases like “If only …” or “What if …”. We want life to return to what it was. We want our father to come back. … if only, if only, if only.
After the negotiation, our attention shifts to the present. The feeling of emptiness surfaces and mourning enters our lives on a deeper, deeper level than we ever imagined. This stage of depression feels like it will last forever. It is important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to the bereavement of a parent.
Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore your grief in its entirety. When you allow yourself to experience depression, it will usually go away as soon as it serves its purpose in your grief. As you get stronger, it may come back from time to time, but this is how grief works.
This step is to accept the reality that the loved one is physically gone and that this new reality is permanent. We will never like this reality nor will it be OK, but eventually we will accept it. This is where our final and adjustment can take a firm place, despite the fact that healing often feels like an unattainable state.