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Stages of Grief and Loss — What to Expect


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Just as many experience joys at the birth of a new child or feelings of love in a new marriage, we also all experience grief and loss. Grief and loss are universal feelings that constitute the human experience. Without them, we would not understand healing and relief, but they are still painful emotions to sift through. When we lose someone, our entire worldview can shift and priorities change. Death changes us, shapes us, and causes us to look at life through new eyes.


5 Stages of Grief

Not everyone experiences grief in the same way or for the same amount of time. Some go through years of denial, others move straight towards anger. For those with a very sick family member, loved ones may have accepted the outcome a long time ago. Regardless of how one experiences grief, most people go through the following five stages.


1. Denial

You may be in shock and unwilling to accept the situation. This is particularly true for those whose loved ones died in a sudden car crash or another unexpected event. Denial is our brain’s way of coping with sudden, unfathomable change. We often experience denial when something bad is happening to us, or if we struggle with addiction. Under totalitarian regimes, many individuals deny the creeping authoritarianism until they can no longer do so. Denial is a coping mechanism to avoid pain and fear.


3. Anger

It’s completely normal to be angry about what is happening to you when you lose a loved one. It may seem unfair, particularly if the individual was young or healthy. You may project anger towards others, the person who died, God, or anyone who tries to talk to you about it. For those who die from addiction, family members are often angry at the addict. This is also true when a person commits suicide. Anger is a secondary emotion and is a result of fear.


3. Bargaining

Bargaining is where a person wishes or prays that a loved one will be saved in one way or another. If the person has not passed away yet, loved ones find themselves stuck in this stage. Typically, the person who bargains asks God to let the person live or come back in exchange for one’s own life, or some other sort of sacrifice. For example, a person may pray, “I will promise to always do your will if you save this person.” Bargaining is what we do when we feel hopeless and afraid. It is our last-ditch effort to save a person we care about.


4. Depression

At this stage, the person has accepted the loss of a loved one. He/she no longer expects the person to come back or to be saved. Often referred to as the “quiet” stage of grief, a person may start to work through some of the emotions. Most individuals experience a low to a high-level amount of depression and anxiety throughout this phase of the healing process. If a person can’t move past this stage into acceptance after a long time, he/she should consider speaking with a therapist.


5. Acceptance

Acceptance doesn’t mean that a person is happy about what happened. It doesn’t even mean that he/she has moved past the feelings of depression or anger. It simply implies that the individual has accepted the situation and understands that life has changed. It’s normal to look at life differently during this phase. Some individuals appreciate life more, others have increased death anxiety, and a few feel as though life no longer has meaning. If the latter is true, it’s critical to speak with a therapist as soon as possible.


Managing Grief and Loss

While there is no easy answer to handle the feelings associated with grief and loss, it does tend to get easier over time. It’s important to remember that other people may say insensitive comments out of ignorance or discomfort. These include “His/her death is part of God’s plan,” “Stay positive,” or other misguided remarks. Try not to take this personally. Find help in a support group, good friend, or therapist who can teach you coping mechanisms during this time.


Have you struggled with grief or loss? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.


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If you are in a life threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1-800-273-8255. Your call will be routed to the crisis center near you. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.  

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