Phases of Grief

These phases are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. There is no set time to these phases. They can last any length of time from days, weeks and months even. We can also go back and forth between the phases. They do not necessarily present in a linear fashion as written down below and not everyone will go through all of the phases. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.

These phases are our responses to how we are feeling in that moment. Our grief is as individual as our lives. Grief is a process and it takes time.

In this phase, we are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb as a way of handling all the overwhelming feelings. Denial and shock is our way of letting in only as much as we can handle as we try to process this loss and get through each day. As we begin to accept the reality of the loss, the denial begins to fade and all the feelings we were trying to suppress can begin to surface.

In the case of an terminal illness or accident where the prognosis isnʼt good, we might find ourselves in the bargaining phase. This phase can be experienced by the person with the terminal illness or by that person’s loved ones. This phase is where you would be willing to do anything to spare your or your loved oneʼs life. “I promise to spend more time at home and less at work if you let my wife live” or “I will donate time to charity organizations to make the world a better place if I can overcome this illness”. We are questioning ourselves, itʼs the phase of the “what ifʼs and if onlyʼs ”. “If only I would have paid more attention, I could have noticed how tired she was and taken her to the doctor sooner”. Often, guilt goes hand in hand with bargaining. We want to avoid this pain at any cost and will do anything to turn back time. This would also apply to the end of a relationship “If only Iʼd paid more attention to him”, “Iʼll do anything to fix this if only youʼll come back to me”.

Anger is an important phase in the healing process. It can be felt at the time when we are notified of the death or later on when the numbness starts to subside. Anger expressed openly in a safe and accepting environment will help decrease itʼs intensity.

Unexpressed anger can build up on the inside and will then explode at inappropriate times or be aimed at loved ones or those we may blame for the death.

It can extend to friends, doctors and also God. It is very important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a person experiencing anger from grief. Remember that anger is a survival mechanism. There are many other emotions under the anger which they will get to in time.

Guilt is another emotion that one might feel in this phase. Guilt is anger and resentment turned in on oneself. A person may feel angry and guilty that they didnʼt or werenʼt able to do something to prevent the death from occurring.

And although it can at times sound totally unrealistic since they really had no control over what happened, it is their way of expressing how much they cared about the person. Their way of saying “I would have done anything for you”.

Feelings of loss and loneliness present themselves as grief settles in on a deeper level. Although this depression feels like it will last forever, it is really important to understand that this is not a sign of mental illness but rather an appropriate response to a great loss. People may feel like withdrawing from life, feeling like they are in a deep fog of sadness and even wondering if itʼs all worth going on alone. This is the phase when the loss fully settles in and you realize that your loved one is not coming back.

It is easy to understand how this would be depressing, but it is a normal and appropriate response. It is natural to feel sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty in this phase. Feeling those emotions shows that the person is beginning to accept the situation.

This phase is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. It does not mean that we like this reality or are OK with it, but we accept it and learn to live with it. This phase will vary greatly according to the personʼs situation. In this phase we can begin to focus on the future, make new connections. We begin to live again, in a new way without our loved one. We cannot however do this until we have given grief all the time it needs and that will be different for everyone.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, please contact Denise for more information on how she could be of help.