June 1, 2019
It is often said that grief is a journey—and for many individuals, that journey leads through five distinct phases of emotional expression.
While these phases of grief are not etched into stone, and some individuals may experience them differently than others, they do describe the basic journey that many mourners take, across cultures and walks of life.
- The first phase is denial. When you learn that a close loved one has died, you may try to make yourself believe that it isn’t real—that it isn’t happening. This is a defense mechanism, and it’s meant to help you weather the immediate shock of losing someone.
- Once the initial wave of denial wanes, the next phase is anger. In this phase, you may find yourself feeling outraged toward the dead, irrational though that may be; or, you may be angry at yourself, or even at God.
- The third phase is bargaining, which is typically characterized by if only sentiments— e.g., “if only we had sought care sooner,” or “if only I could have been there for him.” This phase is often accompanied by guilt; you make yourself think that maybe there’s something you could have done to prevent this loss from happening.
- The fourth phase is depression, which can impact different people to varying degrees. Depression can ultimately help prepare you to say final goodbyes to the person you’ve lost.
- Finally, there is acceptance. You can still feel sad during the acceptance stage, but you’re able to accept what’s happened more objectively, and start thinking about healthy ways to grieve and to move on with your life.
Knowing the five phases of grief can help you make sense of your own journey through bereavement—and to be empathetic to others who are on a journey of their own.
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