Stages of Bereavement and How to Cope
Experiencing Loss and the Stages of Grief.
Everyone experiences loss. It could be something small – a lost purse, wallet or watch which causes a bit of stress or annoyance, but typically we’re able to move forward. Then there’s life altering loss – an end of a marriage, a terminal illness diagnosis or loss of a loved one. It stops you in your tracks. Losing someone or something you love is inevitable. There’s not a roadmap, list of instructions or a timetable on how to cope. As individual as a fingerprint, how we deal with loss is personal and different for each of us.
Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying, one of the most influential books in the history of psychology. It’s widely known for introducing the five stages of loss and grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These reactions that may surface while coping with significant loss.
Denial : This can’t be happening to me.
A self-defense measure that buffers the initial shock of hearing the news. A feeling of numbness and disbelief that protects us from feeling the full intensity of the loss all at one time.
Anger : Why did this happen to me and who’s to blame?
Often stemming from feeling helpless or powerless, anger is common when coping with significant loss. Looking for someone to blame – a doctor, higher power, friend, neighbor, yourself – it’s all normal.
Bargaining : How could I have prevented this from happening?
Persistent thoughts about what could have been done differently to prevent the loss. Being preoccupied with wanting to go back in time and change the course of history.
Depression : How can I go on?
As reality sets in, people may show signs of depression. Common signs – trouble sleeping, lack of energy, withdrawal and feelings of isolation may occur.
Acceptance : I accept that loss has occurred and life will be different.
Integrating the loss into the string of significant life experiences, accepting the fact that the loss has occurred and life will be different.
The theory of Kübler-Ross is used to understand the stages of grief and coping with loss. However, it was never intended to be a rigid framework. People grieve at their own pace, skip stages, repeat stages and experience stages simultaneously. There are no rules or regulations to grieving or coping with loss. It’s a personal journey. For most of us, the fact is — we grieve, we adapt to life after loss and we remember.