Are There Stages of Grief?

There could be. According to Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her book, On Death and Dying (1969) there are five stages of grief:

  • denial

  • anger

  • bargaining

  • depression

  • acceptance

Ross was a psychiatrist and a pioneer in studying near death experiences. What she has brought to the table about grief is important and valuable. And I also think there is so much more, as each individual’s experience is so unique. Of course, there is a thread of similarity in our collective human experiences. And because there is no separation, we can find a vein of familiarity in the spectrum of how humans experience loss and grief. And at the same time, so many other issues in the background inform someone’s own unique journey, and can be very different from the next. All I can offer is my own experience, so that is the place I’m coming from.

Before my journey with grief began, I didn’t know much about it. I’m sure I’ve had it ebb and flow through me from time to time, but I never felt like it was anything really talked about, and that is mostly happened when someone died. I confused grief with mourning, which can be the expression of grief, and also the expression of any other feelings and emotions that come from loss (and loss doesn’t have to be a death). Grief, I have come to learn, is a process, is a journey, is a part of life. It is not an event like I used to confuse it for. According to Better Health Channel, grief is a response to loss. It can be the emotions, thoughts, physical symptoms, and more that surround a tragic or traumatic loss.

So do these stages occur? Probably for most people to some degree. And I’m wondering if sometimes it is so minute that one “phase” can seem like it didn’t even come. I personally don’t accept that the stages of grief are a linear continuum where you enter on one end and come out on the other. The ins and out of the stages can be rocky, turbulent, disturbing, and at other times, fluid, easy and possibly even unexpected. I do think it is extremely possible to be in more than one stage of grief at a time as well. And overall they seem very limited to me. I do understand that the stages are supposed to be very general and overall encompassing for the vast array of human experiences. However, just shrinking grief down to five stages seems very limiting and stifling to me.

I can’t say that I had an angry stage, maybe a few days where I felt some anger, but it didn’t feel like an entire phase. What I did feel, which isn’t even in the five stages, is anxiety. SO MUCH ANXIETY. For at least a year, it was really intense. The first 6-8 months anxiety raged whenever it wanted and showed up unexpectedly all the time. It could come on emotionally or physically, and sometimes both. Or my thoughts were affected by anxiety, and even my actions. Yes I absolutely experienced sadness and depression, and some days still really do, but the anxiety was really intense, far beyond depression. And I doubt I’m the only one who has had this kind of response to grief.

Another thing I have read about the stages is that once you are in acceptance, you are in a place where you may feel your grief, and it will come from a place of more understanding and knowing that this is your new reality. I do like that and have absolutely felt that at times in the last few months. And I don’t believe it’s the end. I have felt acceptance at times, and then really deep, painful sadness sets in. And I will always miss our sons, always. I will always wonder what our life with them on earth would have been like. And maybe those feelings will ebb and flow, and some days I’ll feel angry and others I’ll still be in denial. Also, I think these blanket definition of these emotions is just that, an overall umbrella of what they truly are. No two people can feel grief the same, which means no two people feel sadness the same, or acceptance the same.

Overall, I believe the stages of grief can be helpful to read about, and they are not absolute on any terms. And they may not even apply to you at all, and that’s ok. What I found more helpful was reading spiritual books about grief, especially books by spiritual intuitive and medium James Van Praagh. I appreciate his outlook and his approach to grief as a spiritual matter in his book Healing Grief. That resonates with me much more than a scientific or secular description or understanding of grief. And again, that is just me! Another great resource is Refuge in Grief and the book, It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok. I found the support and resources on this site to be extremely helpful, real, raw and honest. Some days you just feel like crap, and it’s perfectly ok. Even though I tend to have a more spiritual outlook, some days you just need a dose of honest reality as well.

Grief is a part of life, because loss is a part of life. Grief is how we react to, process and journey through the experience of loss. It might be through stages, and it might be on your entirely own path that you are forging for the first time, or something in between. You will ebb and flow as you need to. Some days will hurt more than you can ever imagine, and other days you’ll be ok and wonder if that is ok that you actually feel ok. And it is. And any other way you need to feel or think about this process is more than valid,