Understanding the stages of grief helped me in handling grief. It gave me a better sense of the emotional ups and downs I was experiencing because of my loss. Before explaining the grief stages, I think it is important to remember that every grief experience is different.
When a grandparent dies after having lived a full and meaningful life, we experience one kind of grief. When an infant dies from childbirth complications, we experience another kind of grief. When a forty-year-old mother of small children dies of cancer, another type of grief is experienced. And when a teenage son dies in a traffic accident, there is yet another type of grief.
Factors Influencing Grief Experience
There are many factors that influence how you will work at handling grief. The scenarios in the first paragraph hinted at the age of the person who died, the manner of his or her death, as well as your relationship to him or her. Factors influencing grief also include how close or distant we were relationally to the person who died. Whether there was a healthy or estranged relationship will influence your grief. James White says, "The more vital a part of our life that person was, the more deeply we will feel the loss, and the longer it will take to transition from what was to what is."
Your support system will also have a big influence on your journey. Do you have caring, empathetic people with whom you can talk freely--who also understand the process and stages of grief? Your personality is another thing that will impact the way you grieve. Cultural and religious dynamics will also have a strong influence on how you work through the grief stages.
Here is a grief definition, and some questions for reflection.
The stages of grief are not nearly as orderly as they appear to be when we see them outlined in lists of five, seven, or ten steps. In understanding the grief process, the thing that I find most helpful about the stages of bereavement is that they validate many of the dimensions of grief that could be otherwise be overlooked. Anger, guilt, depression, etc. are named as natural aspects of grief. This helps us know that we are not crazy when we too have these feelings as part of our grief experience.
Many people find that they bounce around from one stage to another--perhaps staying for months in one stage and then a couple days in another and on again to something else. Some people may find that they spend most of their grief journey in only one or two stages and none at all in the others. You are the only person who can truly know what grief is like for you. These models of the grief stages are offered here as a possible means of giving you further understanding to what you might be experiencing.
Here is a link to a grief stages scrapbook journal exercise that can help you name and reflect on the stages of grief that have been a part of your experience. Understanding the grief process as it relates to your own specific situation will be very helpful for moving toward greater healing. You may want to come back to it after reading about the stages. It can also be used a written journal reflection or verbal discussion starter if scrapbook journaling isn't your interest.
Just for "anyhow" I made up my own 5 Stages of Grief based on my own grief journey. I think it is a helpful healing tool to reflect on our own stories. Read it and reflect on your own stages of grief.
This article titled Phases of Grief tells a story of passing the five year anniversary of my husband's death. It shows how even five years after the fact there are still little moments where we are unexpectedly affected by our loss.
Non-linear Story of My Grief
Although I said that understanding the grief stages gave me a better sense of the ups and downs of grief, my own journey was anything but the neat, linear view that can sometime come across when people talk about the stages. Reading or listening to other people's grief stories helped me understand my own emotional experience. Click on the image to find out more about how you can listen to my story.
While knowledge in understanding the bereavement process may give insight, it is still a difficult road to travel. You will find some practical tips for recovery from grief and loss. Complicated Grief is when someone seems to get stuck in grief. Phyllis Kosminsky's book Getting Back to Life when Grief won't Heal offers some helpful advice. Read a summary on this article.
Regaining Hope is a professional counselor's response to someone dealing with multiple losses.
EFT Tapping gives an introduction to Emotional Freedom Technique, which I have found to be quite effective in dealing with the emotions of grief and loss.
This page is a list of grief quotes and a growing second list of quotes on grief. Dealing with Emotions is an article about how simply identifying and naming feelings can help in controlling emotions, according to new studies of the brain.
Growing through Grief is a reflection on what I've noticed about my own growth through grief.
Understanding the grief process depends somewhat on culture. Read some of my reflections on grief and western culture.
Need to chat with a live person? Read our Online Grief Counseling Interviews.