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The 5 Stages of Grief

Whatever type of loss you've suffered, there's no right or wrong way to grieve.  But understanding the states and types of grief, you may be able to find healthy ways to cope.


What is grief?

Grief is a natural response to loss.  It's the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming.  You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt and profound sadness.  The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight.  These are normal reactions to loss, and the more significant the loss, the more intense your grief can be.

Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life's biggest challenges.  You may associate grieving with the death of a loved one, which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief, but any loss can cause grief, including, but not limited to:

  • Divorce

  • Loss of health

  • Losing a job

  • Loss of financial stability

  • A miscarriage

  • Retirement

  • Death of a pet

  • Loss of a cherished dream

  • A loved one's serious illness

  • Loss of a friendship

  • Loss of safety after a trauma

  • Selling the family home

Even subtle losses in life can trigger a sense of grief such as moving away from home, graduating college, or changing careers.

Whatever your loss, it's personal to you, so don't feel ashamed about how you feel, or believe that it's somehow only appropriate to grief for certain things.  If the person, animal, relationship or situation was significant to you, it's normal to grieve the loss you're experiencing.  Whatever the cause of your grief, though, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and take new steps.


The grieving process

Grieving is a highly individual experience.  There's no right or wrong way to grieve.  How you grieve depends on many factors including your personality and coping style, your life experiences, your beliefs, and how significant the loss was to you.

Inevitably, the grieving process takes time.  Healing happens gradually; it can't be forced or hurried - and there is no "normal" time for grieving.  Some people start to feel better in weeks or months.  For others, the grieving process is measured in years.  Whatever your grief experience may be, it's important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

How to deal with the grieving process

While grieving a loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and eventually, find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with your life.

  • Acknowledge your pain. 

  • Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions. 

  • Understand that your grieving process is unique to you.

  • See out face-to-face support from people who care about you.

  • Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.

  • Recognize the difference between grief and depression.

The five stages of grief

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced what became known as the five stages of grief.  These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up of a relationship.   

  1. Denial. "This can't be happening to me."

  2. Anger. "Why is this happening?  Who is to blame?"

  3. Bargaining. "Make this not happen, and in return I will _______."

  4. Depression. "I'm too sad to do anything."

  5. Acceptance. "I'm at peace with what happened."

If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it may help to know that your reaction is natural.  It's important to note that not everyone goes through all of these stages.  And that is okay.  You do not have to go through each stage in order to heal.  In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages.  And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won't experience them in a neat sequential order, so don't worry about what you "should" be feeling or which stage you are supposed to be in.

Kubler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns.  They are considered responses that many people have, but there is no "typical response to loss" as there is no typical loss.  Our grieving is as individual as we are.

Grief can be a roller coaster

Instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows.  Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, may take unexpected turns, and the lows may be deeper and longer.  

The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss.  Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.  

Symptoms of Grief

While loss affects people in different ways, many of us experience the following symptoms when we're grieving.  Just remember that almost anything you experience int he early stages of grief is normal, including feeling like you're going crazy, feeling like you're in a bad dream, or questioning your beliefs.  

Emotional symptoms of grief

  • Shock and disbelief.  Right after a loss it can be hard to accept what happened.  You may feel numb, have trouble believing that the loss really happened, or even deny the truth.  If a pet or somoene you love has died, for example, you may keep expecting them to show up, even though you know they are gone. 

  • Sadness.  Profound sadness is probably the most universally experienced symptom of grief.  You may have feelings of emptiness, despair, yearning or deep loneliness.  You may also cry a lot or feel emotionally unstable.

  • Guilt.  You may feel regret or feel guilty about things you did or didn't say or do.  You may also feel guilty about certain feelings (for example, feeling relieved when a person died after a long, difficult illness).  You may even feel guilty for not doing more to prevent your loss, even if it was completely out of your hands.

  • Fear.  A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears.  If you've lost your partner, your job, or your home, for example, you may feel anxious, helpless, or insecure about the future.  The death of a loved one can trigger fears about your own mortality, or facing life without that person, or the responsibilities you now face alone.

  • Anger.  Even if the loss was nobody's fault, you may feel angry and resentful.  If you lost a loved one, you may be angry with yourself, the doctors, a higher power, or even the person who died for abandoning you.  You may feel the need to blame someone for the injustice that was done to you.

Emotional symptoms of grief

We often thing of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems too, such as:

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • Lowered immunity

  • Weight loss or gain

  • Aches and pains

  • Insomnia


Seeking support for grief and loss

The pain of grief can often cause you to want to withdraw from others and retreat into your shell. But having the face-to-face support of other people is vital to healing from loss. Even if you're not comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it's important to express them when you're grieving.

While sharing your loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry, that doesn't mean that every time you interact with friends and family, you need to talk about your loss. Comfort can also come from just being around others who care about you. The key is not to isolate yourself.


  • Turn to friends and family members. Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Rather than avoiding them, draw friends and loved ones close, spend time together face to face, and accept the assistance that's offered. Often, people want to help but don't know how, so tell them what you need—whether it's a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or just someone to hang out with. If you don't feel you have anyone you can regularly connect with in person, it's never too late to build new friendships.

  • Accept that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who's grieving. Grief can be a confusing, sometimes frightening emotion for many people, especially if they haven't experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to comfort you and end up saying or doing the wrong things. But don't use that as an excuse to retreat into your shell and avoid social contact. If a friend or loved one reaches out to you, it's because they care.

  • Draw comfort from your beliefs. If you follow a spiritual tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you—such as praying, meditating, or going to church—can offer solace. If you're questioning your faith in the wake of the loss, talk to a clergy member or others in your religious community.

  • Join a support group. Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, or counseling centers.

  • Talk to a therapist or grief counselor. If your grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health professional with experience in grief counseling.  An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles.

Beware of how you use social media

Social Media can be useful in letting others know about your loss and reaching out for support. However, it can also attract Internet trolls who post inappropriate, insensitive, or even abusive messages. To spare yourself additional pain and heartache at this time, you may want to limit your social media use to closed groups rather than public postings that can be commented on by anyone.

Taking care of yourself as you grieve

When you're grieving, it's more important than ever to take care of yourself. The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time.

  • Face your feelings. You can try to suppress your grief, but you can't avoid it forever. In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain. Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and health problems.

  • Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Even if you’re not able to talk about your loss with others, it can help to write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal, for example. Or you could release your emotions by making a scrapbook or volunteering for a cause related to your loss.

  • Try to maintain your hobbies and interests. There's comfort in routine and getting back to the activities that bring you joy and connect you closer to others can help you come to terms with your loss and aid the grieving process.

  • Don't let anyone tell you how to feel, and don't tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it's time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment. It's okay to be angry, to yell at the sky, to cry or not to cry. It's also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you're ready.

  • Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. When you feel healthy physically, you'll be better able to cope emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don't use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.

  • Plan ahead for grief “triggers.” Anniversaries, holidays, and important milestones can reawaken painful memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it’s completely normal. You can plan ahead by making sure that you’re not alone, for example, or by marking your loss in a creative way.

Myths and Facts about grief and grieving

Myth:  The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.

Fact:  Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run.  For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

Myth:  It's important to "be strong" in the face of loss.

Fact:  Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss.  Crying doesn't mean you are weak.  You don't need to "protect" your family and friends by putting on a brave front.  Showing your true feelings can help both them and you.

Myth:  If you don't cry, it means you aren't sorry about the loss.

Fact:  Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it's not the only one.  Those who don't cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others.  They may simply have other ways of showing it.

Myth:  Moving on with your life means forgetting about your loss.

Fact:  Moving on means you've accepted your loss, but that's not the same as forgetting.  You can move on with your life and keep the memory of someone or something you lost as an important part of you.  In fact, as we move throug hlife, these memories can become more and more integral to defining the people that we are.

Contact Information

You are not alone in helping in your grief. There are many resources available to assess, treat, and intervene. Crisis lines, counselors, programs and more are available to you and those around you also impacted by grief.

  • GreenState EAP Program:  1-800-327-4692

  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline:  988

  • Mental Health Hotline:  1-866-903-3787

  • Lap of Love Pet Loss and Bereavement Resource Line:  855-352-5683

Symptom of Grief
Seeking Support
Taking Care
Myths and Facts
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