Everyone’s approach to grief is quite unique, even though there are many similarities in the stages that are defined by the various experts and in our experiences. Following are some examples:
One well-known model is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief:
An updated model includes seven stages:
- Shock and Denial
- Pain and Guilt
- Depression and Sorrow
- Testing and Reconstruction
Still another suggests 5 tasks with no timeline:
- Acknowledging the Reality
- Weathering the Stress of Separation
- Adjusting to Absence
- Revising Your Relationship to the Deceased
- Rewriting the Storyline of Your Life
There is even one which describes a ten-stage timeline:
- Depressed / Lonely
- Physical Symptoms
- Panicky About Our Preoccupation
- Anger / Resentment
- Resist Returning
- Struggle to Affirm Reality
From my experience mentoring others through grief for the past ten years, and mourning my own losses from the death of a child, I have found grief does not occur sequentially or in an ordered form.
In the very intense grief that follows the loss of a child, grandchild or sibling – or anyone that passes unnaturally early – our grief occurs in peaks and valleys. We experience multiple stages, overlapping at the same time. Sometimes we return to a stage we thought we were done with. It is a roller coaster ride of the worst sort, without much relief in between the scariest parts.
After losing my older son, Brent, 21, in a motorcycle accident, I was devastated but a protective numbness surrounded me while I had to focus on the practical tasks of making decisions, going through his belongings, planning his wake and funeral, communicating with family and friends, and acknowledging their kindness. But once everyone left, after the funeral, the reality and severity of the situation hit me hard
Denial, anger and bargaining were all mixed up at first. Then, anger mixed with depression, and eventually acceptance. Even after I had accepted Brent’s death logically, I could not yet embrace it emotionally. I bounced around between denial and anger regarding elements of the effect of his death on our family. Anger and depression floated in and out for a long time, as I also witnessed with the bereaved families I mentor.
Then my 30-year marriage ended and I worried about my remaining son Brad and how he was coping – as he flunked out of college and struggled in his grief. Brent’s death also resurrected my grief about the loss of his younger brother Robbie. Apparently, I had not finished with the stages of grief surrounding his stillbirth years earlier. This is complex and unpredictable – not at all neat and orderly. In Part 1 of my book “A Butterfly’s Journey… Healing Grief After the Loss of a Child”, I have a reflection at the end of each chapter about where I thought I was related to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief.could not yet embrace it emotionally. I bounced around between denial and anger regarding elements of the effect of his death on our family. Anger and depression floated in and out for a long time, as I also witnessed with the bereaved families I mentor.
I found that taking action in multiple holistic and spiritual ways, getting through, at first one hour, then one day, then one week, then one month, then one year at-a-time was much more productive than worrying too much about what stage of grief I was enduring. I was successful at healing my grief and am happy to be helping others to do the same now with my book and “Return-to-Life” virtual support program. My wish is to for you to accept your grief non-judgmentally, no matter how or when it shows up in your life.
Sending hugs and healing…