The 12 Stages of Grief

Those of us who have ever had a pet die, a loved one pass away or have gone through a divorce know that afterwards they have experienced a series of emotions, the predominant factor being sadness.  The official term for this experience is called “grieving”. Grieving comes in many forms and shapes and has been studied for many years. It’s most notable researcher was Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross who ascertained that there were actually five stages to the grieving process. First there was denial that the person was actually gone.  Then the bereaved became angry that this had happened. Next the bereaved started bargaining with God or their higher power for a return of the bereaved. Then reality sat in and the bereaved became depressed. Eventually the bereaved was able to accept reality and move on.

Since Dr. Ross’s discovery, many researchers have gone on to test her theories.  The general consensus is that, although  people may experience some or all of her theories, they may also go through more stages of grief than initially identified. For example, at the web site recover-from-grief.com, Jennie (last name?) and her team have identified seven stages of grief. I believe these stages are fairly accurate but I have added four more stages which I believe better complete the grieving process, so we can call these the 12 stages or grief, or 12 steps of grief.  I am listing their seven stages and adding my four below. (Please see their website for a more thorough discussion of the grieving process.)

1. Shock and denial – Losing someone or something , no matter what the process, can leave one feeling numb and in a state of disbelief. “You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from feeling overwhelmed all at once.  This may last for weeks.”*

2. Pain and guilt – after the shock wears off you are overcome by terrible feelings of pain and guilt. “Although excruciating  and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.  You may have guilty feelings of remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one.  Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.”*

3.Anger and bargaining – Frustration turns to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death (or the divorce) on someone else.  Please try to control you anger since it can lead to permanent damage to your relationship with your ex. This is the time for a release of your bottled up emotions, but not with friends and family.  It is best to seek out a neutral party, such as a coach, who can absorb and redirect your feelings.

4. Depression, Reflection and Loneliness – Eventually you will experience a period of depression.  This is almost unavoidable, but offers a good time to reflect on your past and think about how things might have gone differently.  At this point, you may feel very lonely.  However, if you have not used your friends and family as a sounding board, you may be able to turn to them at this time for love and support.  Just make sure you have your coach inspiring you in the background.

5. The Upward Turn – “As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your depression begins to lift slightly.”*

6. Reconstruction and Working Through – “As you become more functional, your mind starts working again and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to the problems posed by life without your loved  one.  You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing your life without him or her.”*

7. Acceptance and Hope – In this stage you will learn how to deal with the reality of the situation. “Acceptance does not always mean instant happiness.  Given the pain and turmoil you have just experienced, you may never return to the carefree, untroubled you, that existed before the tragedy.  But you will find a way to move forward.”*

8. Discovery – now, with the help of your coach, you can begin to look beyond life’s realities to life’s possibilities.  You actually begin to consider that there may be an alternate path to a more joyous life, other than that of mere survivor.

9. Envisioning – with the help of your coach, you begin to envision an alternate reality.  You start to dream and daydream about places you’ve never been, jobs you would like to hold, friends you haven’t seen in a long time.  You think about how your life could be different, and you wonder how you could make this happen.

10. Setting Goals – now you start to think about setting goals for yourself,  With the help of your coach you begin to talk about the areas of life you’d like to see some improvement in. Perhaps you would like to meet some more friends, start working out at the gym, get a better grip on your finances, redecorate your home, travel or, possibly, start dating again. There are many goals out there to achieve.  You just have to decide which ones are yours.

11. Planning – once you have decided on your goals, you will need to start planning how to achieve them.  We call this process taking “action steps”.  Sometimes they are baby steps and sometimes they are much bigger, but any step you take means you are moving closer to your goal. All goals, however, require determining the action steps you will need to achieve them. The coach will explain this process  to you.

12. Action! -this is the last step of the grieving process.  It means you have survived all the shock, anger and depression and have become proactive about your life.  You are no longer a mere survivor, you are a renewed you, full of ambition and hope for the future. You have accomplished your goals and are thinking forward to the next ones.

*much of this article was already supplied in an online article called “7 Stages of Grief” which can be found at recover-from-grief.com,