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  • Wading Through the Process
    Along with the rest of the human race, you’ve no doubt experienced some degree of grief in your life. If you haven’t yet, you will. As you work through your own grief, knowing the stages can reassure you that your feelings are normal. Read >>
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Wading Through the Process

Grief often includes five stages.

The death of a loved one, the loss of a pet, a divorce, or a terminal illness—these are all things that cause grief. Along with the rest of the human race, you’ve no doubt experienced some degree of grief in your life. If you haven’t yet, you will. There’s no way to prepare for the feelings of grief, and you never know how you’ll respond when confronted with deep loss and sadness.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross laid out five universal stages of grief. Now widely accepted in the world of counseling, these five stages are known as DABDA: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Everyone grieves differently. The stages may come in different orders, to varying degrees, and in varying lengths of time. You may even skip stages altogether.

As you work through your own grief, knowing the stages can reassure you that your feelings are normal.

Stage 1: Denial

Seen as a defense mechanism, denial that something terrible has happened is your brain’s way of protecting itself from strong, overwhelming emotions. Also known as shock, this initial emotion eases you into grief by numbing you to reality.

Stage 2: Anger

Over time, denial eventually wears off and the pain settles in. You feel helpless and don’t know how to respond to your feelings. The hurt you feel from your loss is often expressed as anger. You may feel anger towards a higher power, family, friends, the lost loved one, strangers, or objects in your path. You may be angry that you’re angry and that makes you even angrier.

Stage 3: Bargaining

During this stage of grief, you feel regret and guilt. You wonder if you could have done more to prevent the loss, and you’re sure you could have. You feel a lack of control and wish you had answers.

During this stage, you try to make a deal with the higher power you believe in, asking that the nightmare be taken away. You want to reverse the death or loss and are willing to do anything to do so. This is a sign you’re trying to avoid the true reality of the pain and sadness that are pushing to the surface.

Stage 4: Depression

When you realize there’s nothing that can be done to change the situation, sadness settles over you. Frequent crying, trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, and seeking to isolate yourself are all signs you’re depressed. You feel alone, filled with regrets, and overwhelmed with your emotions.

Part of depression during grief is worry over practical things associated with the loss. Affording the funeral, caring for others, or making up lost work. But depression is also tied to the process of saying goodbye to your lost loved one or former way of life.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Is there hope? Will you ever be able to move on? When you no longer resist the feelings of grief and as you learn to accept your loss, the healing begins. As you come to terms with reality, you feel a sense of peace and calm. You may not feel happy as you did before the loss, but life still has meaning and your life still has purpose. With acceptance, your good days start to outnumber the bad. You realize that others need you and your loved one will never be forgotten. Sadly, not everyone reaches this final stage of grief. Some are left in denial, anger, or depression.

If you find yourself struggling to reach acceptance, contact a counselor for help. Though difficult, reaching acceptance will bring healing and help you truly adjust to your new normal.

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