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the stages (or rollercoaster) of grief

From the late 1960s, people have been speaking of the stages of grief. There are supposedly 5 of these stages:



In this stage, you feel that these events simply cannot be happening to you. It is as if you are in a state of shock, where you feel numb and things become overwhelming and rather meaningless. This is nature’s way of helping you to get through a particularly difficult period. It paces your grief, only letting in as much as you can handle at any given time. It allows you to begin to process your new reality gradually. But as you start to do this, new emotions will begin to surface.



This is the stage during which you start to question what has happened. You may look for reasons and causes – and in the process, you may look for someone or something to blame (even if its God.) Some anger can play a useful role in your healing process, because after an initial period of denial, in can connect you back to the world and to the people in it. It is also a more energetic state. Your circumstances will of course have changed significantly, and it is sometimes quite difficult to accept the changes. It may be helpful to actually feel your anger rather than to try to deny or suppress it, as we are inclined to do. Perhaps see it as an indication of your love. Interestingly, there is probably a lot of deep pain lying under your anger, as well as other difficult emotions – such as a possible feeling of being abandoned. But, you will get to these in good time.



Your strong feelings may result in a strong urge to bargain. You may, for instance, promise to do something in return for a certain outcome, or to have the situation go away. Indeed, at this stage, you may be willing to do just about anything to have your loved one restored to you, and for things to go back to being how the way were before. This is when you may get lost in an endless cycle of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. These will then cause you to question what you may perhaps have done differently, which in turn could lead to unhelpful feelings of guilt. As you attempt to negotiate a way to lessen your feelings of pain and hurt, your real focus will remain stuck in the past.



This is when you might feel too emotional to want to do anything at all. In a fog of intense emptiness, you find yourself withdrawing from life – and you may even begin to wonder if there is any point in carrying on alone. Your attention has now shifted back to the present, but it may still be a long road ahead as this stage can sometimes feel as if it will last forever. The realisation that you have lost a loved one, and that he or she will never return, is of course a hugely depressing one – so much so that it can even make you feel that you are going mad. In fact, you are not. Under the circumstances, it is appropriate to have these strong feelings, at least for a while. They are indeed yet another part of the natural healing process.



Although, of course, you may never feel completely OK about having lost your loved one, you should eventually learn to live with the dreadful reality that he or she is indeed permanently gone. You may gradually start to experience more good days than bad. Although life has now changed, doing certain things may still at first feel like a betrayal of the person that has gone. In time, however, you may wish to reassign some roles to yourself or others, invest again in some old friendships and make new connections. You will never replace the person you have lost, but you can start to take care of your own needs again and once more begin to experience a relatively full life. You do, however, need to allow the grieving process the time it needs.


In reality, grief tends not to follow such a fixed pattern as the one laid out here. The psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who first introduced us to the idea of these stages, did not mean for them to be used as a rigid framework. There is, of course, no such thing as a typical loss – nor is there a typical way to deal with your loss. You will, therefore, go through the grieving process in your own special way.

It is important to realise that you do not need to experience all the stages to heal, and you certainly do not need to go through them in a sequential order. However, it is helpful to know that each one is frequently a part of the natural mourning process, and that experiencing any (or all) of them is not an indication that there is anything wrong with you.

In reality, your mourning process will probably be a bit like a rollercoaster ride. As on a rollercoaster, your ups and downs are likely to be rougher and more pronounced early on, and then gradually flatten out over time. You may still experience a strong sense of sadness, even years after the event – particularly on anniversaries or during special seasons. Time should, however, eventually prove to be the great healer. With time, these difficult periods should become shorter in duration and they should also begin to lessen in intensity.

Please feel free to contact me or make an appointment to see me.

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