You take the time and plan for a myriad of life events. Perhaps you’ve outlined contingency plans. You may have considered a variety of outcomes. And yet even with this planning, we do not plan for loss itself. All sorts of loss can bring up grief. You could grieve the loss of life, a marriage, or a job. Grief will inevitably be a part of our lived experience. Whether you are working through grief right now or in the future, it’s essential to understand how this powerful emotion can take shape.
5 Stages of Grief
One of the models of grief is the Kubler-Ross Model. This model breaks grief into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It is typical for folks to imagine moving through grief linearly. However, grief is more often a cyclic or circular process. A grieving person moves through the stages multiple times and in their own time. Sometimes all stages are felt during the grieving process. Conversely, there may be other times you only experience certain grief stages. Grief varies from person to person.
Denial is when you keep your intense emotions to yourself as you naturally adjust to the shock of a loss. The stage of grief can act as a coping strategy. Denial shows that we are not ready to accept the pain of what happened or is happening.
Anger can occur in various ways. You may feel anger at a higher power for taking the person. Or, anger can be directed at the person who is dying. You may even feel anger at yourself or your partner for not being able to stop the outcome.
Bargaining is when you may negotiate or make a deal to manage your pain. You may bargain by dialoguing with a higher power, reaching out to your previous partner, or reaching out to a previous employer. In this stage, you may question how to change the outcome.
Depression is the feeling of sadness and loss related to the memories and thoughts of the loss itself. You may also feel emotions like worthlessness and self-loathing during this stage.
Acceptance is owning that the loss is unchangeable. This goal of acceptance is not to justify or work to make the outcome comfortable. The critical goal of this stage is accepting that your loss is real.
3 Types of Grief
Grief is a natural response to loss. Loss can cause a ripple effect to many areas of your life. For example, the loss or end of a relationship can manifest in multiple ways. There are challenges due to moving out and figuring out new routines. You may reflect on why the relationship ended. You’ll want to understand the loss, thus creating a new structure and developing resiliency.
The grief process varies for each person but tends to lessen with time as you process and move forward. There is no specific timeline for any type of grief. It may be a few weeks, several months, or a couple of years before you’re ready to move forward. You will need time to re-acclimate, heal, and carry your grief story forward into your next chapter.
General Grief symptoms may include:
- Physical symptoms (e.g. migraines, change in appetite, overall muscle pain)
- Changes in energy levels
- Feeling a spectrum of emotions ranging from resentment to fear to yearning to gratitude
- Memories of both good and bad times with a family member, partner, pet, or experience
There can be other types of grief that do not fall into a general grief pattern, including complicated grief. Complicated grief symptoms may include:
- A lack of trust in others
- An inability to remember positive times with a loved one
- Obstacles to regular routines
Your grief may mirror symptoms of depression with specific thoughts and distractions. However, those thoughts and distractions are specific to your loss and may be mixed with good memories of the person or relationship.
When associated with reminders of loss, the waves of complicated grief dissipate with time but are felt more intensely and persistently. There may also be self-derogatory thoughts around failing the deceased person or relationship (e.g., not being faithful, not visiting family often enough, arguing before they died).
Delayed grief is holding off on your grief until another time. Delayed grief can catch up to you after you’ve taken care of immediate practical steps surrounding your loss. This type of grief can appear when another loss reminds you of your previous loss.
Some of the symptoms include:
The delayed grief experience is similar to typical grief; it just occurs at a later time.
One Loss, Three Ways to Grieve
How you grieve is highly personal and may vary from loss to loss. It is essential to know that the grief you experience is not wrong and is unique to the circumstances that you are going through.
Consider a family with three children who lost their mother:
- The eldest child may have to step up and take on some of the responsibilities of a parent in their mother’s absence. This practical step, while helpful, may result in the eldest child having delayed grief.
- The middle child may feel that they must continue pretending everything is alright and stuff down their emotions. As they remember their mother, they begin to blame themselves for being disobedient or breaking curfew instead of spending time with their mother. If suppression and blaming themself for their mother’s death were a factor as well as heightened grief intensity, then this would cue the person that it was not a typical grief pattern.
- The youngest child may initially deny that their mother is not coming back and hope that somehow their family will be whole again. The youngest child may work through the anger and depression to work to find new routines and ways of remembering their mother in the present. This is more of a general grief type.
All three children are in the same family but grieved very differently. Ultimately, each child will go through the grief process and stages, but the timing and internal experience will differ. Grief specialist, Megan Devine, stated “Anything a person feels inside of their own personal grief is correct.” There may also be a therapist or mentor who helps each child honor their mother. This commemoration can help each child move forward in their life.
Seeking Help with Grief
It’s useful to think about your grieving process. Which type of grief are you experiencing? Are you in a particular stage of grief? The five stages apply to every type of grief. While the stage of grief will change, the kind of grief typically remains consistent. However, if there is a compounded grief where multiple losses have occurred, then you may notice that the grief processes may differ from loss to loss (e.g., losing a dog and then a friend, or losing a parent and then a child).
Speaking Grief highlights that how we have grieved losses in the past is not a predictor of future losses. If you notice that your grief makes you feel stuck and that you are not being able to move forward or continue in your daily routines without obstacles, then it may be helpful to reach out to a therapist for extra support.