Many people refer to the five stages of grief. If you have lost someone or know someone who has, you will come across many articles about moving through these stages. What you do not often see is the seven stages of grief model.
This model closely follows the five stages model, with two additional platforms: pain/guilt and the upward turn. In essence, these emotions or stages are included in the five stages model, but they are not listed separately.
Here, then, are the seven stages of grief explained.
1. Shock and Denial
When a person first learns of the death of a loved one, they often meet the news with a sense of disbelief. People describe feeling numb. This is a normal and innate reaction that helps to shield your brain from the pain of the loss. Rather than being overwhelmed by multiple emotions at once, you move through this stage as your mind prepares to deal with the loss.
2. Pain and Guilt
Within days, the shock of the news begins to wear off. As it does, it is replaced by heartbreaking pain. At times, your pain will seem unbearable. To move through the grieving process successfully, allow yourself to feel the pain. Trying to hide the pain or mask it with substances like drugs and alcohol only extends your grief.
During this stage, you may find yourself dealing with feelings of guilt. You may feel guilty because things were left unsaid. You may feel guilty because you are angry with your loved one for dying. This is often the scariest phase of the grieving process because the emotions are so raw.
3. Anger and Bargaining
During this stage of grief, your frustration is replaced by anger. It is not unusual for people in this stage of grief to lash out at friends and family members. People may even violently lash out at inanimate objects. You may even lay the blame for your loved one’s death on someone completely innocent.
While many of your close friends and loved ones will tolerate your outbursts, they will do so only for a short time. Do your best to control your anger. You do not want to lose established relationships because of your loss.
You will also find yourself bargaining during this stage of grief. You will never do X if your loved one is returned to you. You will do Y if you can just see your loved one once more. Even though a part of you knows that having your loved one returned to you is not possible, you will have these thoughts.
Depression, sadness and loneliness are the emotions that people most often associate with grief. The difficult part of this stage is that it comes just when people think you should be getting over the death. Your friends and family may try to talk you out of your feelings and despair that their words do not help you.
During the stage of grief, people often realize, for the first time, the enormity of their loss. You may find that you do not want to socialize, preferring to be left alone with your feelings. You may also find yourself dealing with severe feelings of despair and emptiness. Feeling as though nothing and no one can make you feel like yourself again is normal. Feeling as though you will never “feel better” is also normal during this stage of grief.
5. The Upward Turn
This is the second stage that the five-stages model leaves out. It is most often combined with the acceptance stage in that model. During this stage of grief, you will find that your life begins to slowly return to a sense of normalcy. You feel calm and get yourself organized. Any physical symptoms that you have been experiencing will lessen, and you will feel your depression begin to lift.
Now that you have become more functional and organized, your mind begins to refocus on you again. You realize that this is a process that you have worked through, and you begin to focus on the steps that you need to take to rebuild your life and move on.
If you shared finances with the person who is deceased, you begin to put together a financial plan. If you shared a home, you begin to determine whether or not you can, or want to, live in the home alone. During reconstruction, you begin to put the pieces back together so that you can move on with your life.
It’s important to understand that all people do not enter the acceptance phase. It can be incredibly difficult to accept the death of a loved one and, unfortunately, some people simply cannot, no matter how hard they try. For others, reaching the acceptance stage is the final step in completing the grieving process.
During this stage, people accept and deal with reality. Do not confuse this stage with happiness. In truth, people in this stage have simply decided that although they cannot return to the person that they were before the death of their loved one, they can more forward and become a different person. People in the acceptance stage are able to make plans for the future.
When you have reached acceptance, you are able to remember your loved one fondly, even laughing at your funnier memories. You may still experience pangs of sadness, but the happy memories outweigh the pain that you feel. You know without a doubt that you will be able to find happiness and joy again.
If you keep anything about the seven stages of grief in mind, make it this: Everyone grieves, and everyone handles the process differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, providing that you are not harming yourself or others. Take your time as you navigate through the stages; when you grieve in a healthy way, you emerge from your sadness in a positive way.
Updated: October 2, 2014