There are seven stages of grief each of us are bound to experience after losing a loved one. Without understanding how these stages may play out or the emotions we are to feel, the seven stages of grief can be quite an emotional rollercoaster.
The stages of grief were initially outlined by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her best-selling book On Death and Dying. Psychiatrists have since adapted the model to include two more stages – completing what we now know as the seven stages of grief.
In the immediate aftermath of the loss of a loved one, one may experience shock, pain, anger, and depression before ‘the upward turn’, reconstruction and acceptance.
Zakiyah Hoosen, a registered counsellor and qualified life coach, says the stages of grief do not necessarily occur in a linear fashion. One may experience them in a different order, even simultaneously, depending on the individual.
“You can experience anger before you experience shock, or you can experience acceptance and only later come to the stage of denial or depression,” she explains.
It’s better to conquer grief than to deceive it – Seneca
1. Shock and denial
“The initial stages of shock and denial refer to that very first overwhelm of disbelief; not believing the sudden reality,” said Hoosen.
As Hoosen explained, the human mind’s inability to conceptualise the idea of death makes it difficult to believe the loss of a loved one. This stage comes with a level of denial and numbness. During this stage, it is common for people to experience physical symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, difficulty sleeping, decreased appetite or heart palpitations.
2. Pain and guilt
Although a stage on its own, Hoosen explains that pain is associated with the depressive stage while guilt is associated with the anger stage. This stage begins once the first stage – shock and denial – begins to fade, allowing reality to set in.
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3. Anger and bargaining
Hoosen says anger has for a very long time been misunderstood as an aggressive emotion of pain. However, she says, it could manifest itself in different forms such as frustration and regret. Moreover, during this time, some people who are grieving may try to bargain for a chance to have things end with a different outcome.
“Highlighting our lack of control, we come to bargaining. [That is], how can we negotiate after this. The bargaining stage is more of a process to try and negotiate the intensity of the pain” says Hoosen.
One of the best-known, and prolonged, of the stages of grief is depression. The characteristics of this phase include lower levels of motivation and energy.
“There is a lot your body is doing to try and keep you in the present moment. Part of that is sadness, crying, hurt and shock,” says Hoosen. She adds that those who hold funerals between one day and a week later seem to experience this stage for longer.
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5. The Upward Turn
“You apply different ways of coping and appealing with the pain you’re feeling. There’s also that element of normality,” says Hoosen.
However, this may also be considered a trial-and-error period during which the griever identifies and tries coping mechanisms. It’s about normalising the loss of a loved one.
Similar to the stage of The Upward Turn, the stage of reconstruction allows one to regain a sense of control over their lives. Motivation and inspiration return. However, mourning is a complex process and it is possible to relapse into feelings of guilt at this point.
Some may feel guilty for feeling inspired when they suppose they’re meant to be mourning.
“That guilt is definitely a strange one. It’s an inner-conflict where they wonder why it feels this way,’ she says, adding that the key is “constantly reminding yourself that you can be grieving while feeling inspired.”
The process of grief is different for everyone one. While some may get over the loss of a loved one much quicker, others may take more than a year to finally reach the stage of acceptance.
“Coming to the acceptance stage is the idea of ‘I’ve accepted the emotions that come with losing this person and I’ve realised the impact that it’s had on my life [while] I am still able to continue living,” says Hoosen.
Hoosen cautions that there is no specific timeframe for one to experience grief. The duration is determined by numerous factors, including the closeness of the relationship and the cause of death. However, she says, it may be advisable to seek professional assistance if the stages of grief persist beyond six months.