5 Stages of Grief + 1 You May Not Have Heard Of

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When was the last time you felt grief? Not just your run of the mill, a friend flaked on you type of sad. But real soul-shattering grief?

The grieving period looks different for everyone. Some people spend a lot of time crying. Some remain stoic and continue plowing through their to-do list.

Despite these differences, there is a common principle underlying all of them. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s the 5 Stages of Grief.

I’ve experienced significant seasons of grief a few times in my life. The first was when my cousin was killed in 1995. It was a complete shock, and it shook us to our core. In some ways, it brought my immediate family closer together. In other ways, it drove us apart, as we all grieved in different ways.

When my grandfather died in 2004, I was old enough to really understand how short the human lifespan actually is. He was a kind and loving man. The world’s light glows a little dimmer without him.

In 2017, my grandmother passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Her and I were especially close. In fact, I’ve rarely let myself be so close to another person. I tend to put up walls but she had a way of breaking them down. She made me feel at ease.

Losing a loved one is never easy, and you never stop missing them. My hope is, with the tips in this post, you will be able to at least find peace.

5 Stages of Grief

This 5 stage model for grieving was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. She published a book on it called On Death and Dying. Kübler-Ross was inspired by her work with terminal patients.

She is well known for this, but long after the fact, said she regretted it. That grief was so complex that these steps are often taken out of order, and experienced by people in different ways.

On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families

Denial

Traditionally, denial is the first stage in the 5 step model. Denial, simply, is the act of not being able to acknowledge, or choosing not to acknowledge, a specific situation.

I started to grieve for my grandmother for years before her death. As the days passed, I felt her slowly slipping away as she forgot names and stories she used to tell.

At first, I tried so hard to convince my brain that she wasn’t losing her memory. Or if she was, that she would eventually get it back.

It was unconscionable that this woman who always remembered all of her ten grandchildren’s birthdays (and sent heartfelt cards) would one day not even know who we were. Unconscionable and unfair.

Denial.

Anger

Alzheimer’s makes me angry. Maybe it feels so raw because I watched it rob me of a relationship I cherished above almost any other. I watched the sparkle fade from my grandmother’s eyes.

If there is one word I could use to describe my grandmother, it would be vivacious. I heard later on from my mom (I think) that my grandmother considered herself shy. I never had that impression for even a moment.

She wore bold colors (favoring green and other jewel tones). Her house was covered nearly floor to ceiling in either beautiful paintings or kitschy knick-knacks. She owned more jewelry than the Queen of England.

And she was a storyteller. Granted, she had a tendency to tell the same ones over and over again. But what I wouldn’t give to hear one of them again.

I have never felt hate like the hate I feel for Alzheimer’s.

Anger.

Bargaining

This was a season of life I existed in for longer than I care to admit. It’s a tangled web we weave around ourselves, each strand another promise.

If You allow her to get well, I’ll…

I made hundreds of these statements, promising the kingdom of my soul to whoever is up there, if only he or she would allow my grandmother to be well.

If only she could talk with me again. Really talk.

If only I could see a glimmer of recognition in her eyes when someone says my name to her.

If/then becomes the thing that keeps us up at night as we wait to get THAT phone call.

Bargaining.

Depression

I cried so many tears for my grandmother. Grandmommy is what I called her. It broke my heart that I would never hear her voice on the other end of the phone. I would never unwrap Christmas presents in her family room.

It sucks. The sadness sucks. And I felt it. With every breath I took. She wasn’t around anymore. There wasn’t a blanket fort in the world that was big enough for my sorrow.

Depression seems like it might possibly be the longest stage people go through. The sadness of missing someone never really ends. You just get better at hiding it.

Depression.

Acceptance

We are approaching the 2nd anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, and I still struggle with this one. Especially with the impending holidays.

She lived for the holidays. A house full of people. Beautiful place settings. Homemade cranberry jello. Stockings for each of her children and grandchildren hung above the fireplace.

It is my task, as I move through my grief, to accept that I never get to see her light up at those experiences again. And that she will never light the rest of us up in the process.

One day I will accept that.

Resources

It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand

Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief

Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief

6th stage of grief: WHY

I’m not sure where this stage falls. For me it is somewhere in between bargaining and acceptance. We reach a certain point in our grief that we often ask WHY.

This stage can share similarities with other stages. It is also distinct in many ways. But I really think it ought to be included in this list. It is in the WHY, in the question asking, that we often find peace.

Why did this happen to us? can bring a family closer together.

How could my God let this happen? can strengthen a person’s spirituality. (Although that was not the case for me.)

How will we live without her? creates meaningful new traditions that you allow yourself to cherish.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked WHY, my husband and I could retire today.

Tips for coping

No matter what stage of grief you are currently in, it is helpful to find coping strategies to make it more manageable.

I fully believe that just because we suffer from the loss of a loved one does not mean we need to live in suffering.

Now, that is much easier said than done. Grief is a pit, and yes, you can climb out of it. But it takes time, and effort, and the right tools.

Journaling

Writing is incredibly therapeutic. Many people begin journaling when they experience major life changes or seasons of depression.

Journaling is powerful that it allows us to purge ourself of thoughts that take root. It allows us to say goodbye to ideas that hold us captive.

Not sure what to write about? Here are some ideas:

  • Your favorite memory
  • Your favorite recipe
  • Their life story
  • A letter to them
  • A letter from them to you

Talk about them

I know its hard. It’s really, really hard sometimes. When we talk about our lost loved ones, it feels like we’re letting the negative thoughts win.

But I really don’t think that’s true. Queen Elizabeth II once said, Grief is the price we pay for love. We love so deeply in our lifetime, that loss feels insurmountable. It feels all-encompassing.

But that love defines us. It needs to be spoken of so that it stays alive in our loved one’s absence. It needs to be nurtured and well kept. Your love is meaningful and deserves that.

Join an online/local support group

In today’s digital world, it is easy to find online access to community. Whether it is comprised of complete strangers or people you know, you can even start your own group.

If the internet isn’t really your thing, you can a local church or moms’ group. They might be able to connect you with people who offer the support you are looking for.

Distract yourself

I don’t know if experts really recommend this, but I find staying busy really helps. Try taking up a new hobby, one that is not only distracting but also beneficial for your mental health.

Here are some ideas:

*Sign up for a yoga class

*Work your way through a recommended reading list

*Take up painting

*Start a play group

To be clear, none of these things are meant to be replacements for your loved one. But every moment you spend doing them is probably a moment you aren’t sad about your loss. That’s a win, right?

Accept death as a reality

This. This feels damn near impossible. But remember: death is inevitable. Besides birth it is the one thing that unites us. We are all born and we all die.

It’s kind of scary in its foreignness. We have no way of conclusively knowing what lies on the other side. But as a wise man once said: “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

Grief, mental health, 5 stages of grief

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Not all of these tips will resonate with you. Maybe you find one you like, it works for a while, then it becomes ineffective. Maybe none of these work.

What matters is that you find something that speaks to you and you allow it to guide you through this difficult season. Let it wrap its arms around you. Let it heal you.

I will never forget my grandmother. But I can wake up each morning grateful for the years in which she made the world a better place, and feeling lucky that she was mine.

Tell me your grief experiences in the comments if you feel comfortable! Do you find the 5 stages to be accurate? Are there any you might add?

Make sure you share this post! You never know who it might benefit.

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115 thoughts on “5 Stages of Grief + 1 You May Not Have Heard Of”

  1. Oh gosh. This post reminds me of my “lolo”. I already cope since I have a nephew to take care of. But whenever a thing reminds me of him. Still it makes me sad that he’s gone for good. 😭

  2. This post is spot on. We all deal with loss in different ways, and it’s important to realize that and allow ourselves to go through the motions. These tips for coping are incredibly helpful, especially in finding a support group to talk to.

  3. I lost my mom to Alzheimers as well. It’s been almost ten years and it still stings. What I wouldn’t love for her to be back so that she can meet my son. But I know that she already knew him. It was weird and at her funeral, I thought it would be weird if I was pregnant. We had been trying for a long time and it just wasn’t happening. About two weeks later, we found out that I was indeed pregnant. I felt like mom left me a gift that I would cherish forever.

    I went through a divorce last year and it is very similar to death. It is so hard because unlike death, they are still alive but no longer in your life.

    1. Hey there, I am so sorry for your loss. Sounds like you can found some comfort in your son and your beliefs. That is a great thing! And I agree about a divorce. There is I’m sure a season of grief that accompanies it. Take care and thanks for reading!

  4. I can certainly relate to some of these myself. Denial is a hard one too. Losing any loved ones is really hard. Acceptance is another hard one too. I think those are a couple of the hardest.

    1. Hey Kathy, I think so too. I have a hard time with acceptance around the holidays and times like now. (Pregnant, and wishing my grandma could have known my kids) Thanks for reading!

  5. Thanks for writing about this, I needed to read this today as I myself I am experiencing grief at the moment and there are days I cry, others I am angry, and others I just want to deny. I only know one thing this pain cannot last forever. My faith helps me.

    1. Hey Adriana, I’m so sorry you’re going through that. I’m glad you’ve found something that can help. I’m the lone non-religious person in my family (along with my husband) and I know they all find a lot of comfort in their faith. Take care of yourself, and thanks for reading!

    1. Hey Chiell, thanks so much! I always imagined it would be easier if I had time to say goodbye in the case of a long illness, but I still had a really hard time. Take care, and thanks for reading!

  6. This stages of griefs are true and I know for a fact that I understand how that truly feels because I have been there. Even with the death of Chadwick Boseman, an inspiration to the world, I was in denial, Angry, Depressed and so sad. I even saw myself asking the WHY question over and over again.

  7. Hi Jen. Thank you for detailing the stages of grief, especially as it is clearly something that you are familiar with. Do we each go through every stage or might some be skipped (or perhaps be far briefer in duration)?

    1. Hey Richie, I do think it varies by the person. Some people might have an easy time with one of the stages so they can almost skip it. Grief is a personal thing for everyone. Take care and thanks for reading!

  8. I thought I dealt with grief OK, considering I am emotionally unstable and I lost some people and animals so close to me I thought I was doing good.
    It has been in the last weeks I have realised I just never got out of denial, the first close death to me I put in a box, pretending it didn’t happen – that they were still alive, I just don’t see them and everyone since has been squashed in on top.
    How do you undo that? Hopefully, I can work it out.

    1. Hey Sarah, I totally get that! Sometimes that feels like the easiest way to deal with it at the time. I think with time it will get easier. I’m sorry for your losses. Take care, and thanks for reading!

  9. My father passed unexpectedly when I was 15. At that age, I had NO idea what healthy grief was, what to expect, or how to deal with it in a healthy way. I started attending a grief counseling group for children where I was introduced to the 5 stages of grief. That being said, I have to agree with you on the Why! That’s the stage where I started to discover how we were going to move forward as a family. It’s an important step in the healing process to question things – whether it’s questioning a higher power, ‘fate’, or your own coping abilities.

    1. Hey Britt, I am so sorry. I dread the loss of my parents. I’m trying to keep them safe in these Covid times since they’re in their 60s and that can be a challenge… I definitely think working through the why is important too. Take care, and thanks for reading!

  10. I think this is going to help so many people! Grief is so hard, and it can hit you in ways you never thought possible. I love that you addressed them all and then offered some ways to help with the process.

  11. I went through all of these and then some when my best friend died. I was 14, and I was not in any way mentally prepared for how hard it hit me. I felt really lost for a long, long time.

    1. Hey Ben, I am so sorry that happened. Experiencing the death of someone close at a young age is so hard. Especially if it’s unexpected. Hopefully you are doing well now. Thanks for reading!

    1. Hey Amber, I’m sorry you went through that. Dementia/Alzheimer’s is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It’s awful. Take care, and thanks for reading!

  12. Pam Wattenbarger

    When my mother died of cancer, I had a really hard time dealing with the different stages of grief. They absolutely take a while to work through and some stages were harder than others -at least to me.

  13. That sixth one is interesting and surely one that crossed my mind when my grandfather passed away. He was going through a lot medically, so it was definitely his time, but I think it is natural to wonder why and think back obsessively, wondering what could have been done differently to make it so your loved one is still here.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Jaya, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m so sorry for your loss. For me, looking back, I think one of the hardest parts for me was that I was so so so close to her as a child. She basically WAS my childhood. And when she died, it’s like the last bit of my childhood died too. Losing grandparents is so hard. Thanks for sharing that, and for reading!

  14. Loss changes your mindset, both short term and long term. Having survived multiple losses in a short amount of time nearly ten years ago,, I can tell you it colored everything for a good long while. Now, I tend not to think about negative outcomes. “Don’t buy that plant, no one will take care of it if you’re gone.” It’s a terrible mindset. Now I buy a plant because I think, my house could use a little refresh. Your post was well thought out. Truly!!

  15. This is such a wonderful post. It’s helpful to understand the stages of grief. It’s interesting to read about the bargaining. I really thought that was just me as silly as that sounds. Thank you for sharing such helpful and supportive posts always!

  16. Really love this. You do a great job of providing informative, detailed explanations and resources. I lost my grandmother recently due to Alzheimer’s as well. I’m still struggling. That sixth stage is where I’ve been for awhile. I love some of these coping skills.

  17. Great article you write It Thank you for sharing, its a brilliantly well written post about a difficult topic and I love the journaling idea! It helps alot

  18. Nice post on the stages of grief. I’m sorry for your loss.

    Only by letting ourselves grieve we can move on — but we still may experience pangs of sadness from time to time.

    I think I had a hard time moving on after my mother’s death both because I was working as a therapist myself (in a nursing home, not a mental health therapist) and had to keep my emotions in check to get through the day and had some hurt feelings toward my extended family about some issues surrounding her death. I didn’t need to grieve alone; but I felt like I did.

    As far as “why,” I tend to be hard on myself. If I start asking “why me?” I ask, “why NOT me?” Why should I consider myself somehow exempt from the inevitable hardships of life?

    1. Wow thank you for the comment! I totally agree that it is harder to move on when you feel you need to be mindful of your emotions. It’s hard to be stoic when you’re falling apart. Thanks for reading, and best wishes. Feel free to share!

  19. Even though my dad passed away eight years ago it still seems like yesterday. I kind of was able to cope with it except for the fact that when he died I tried to close his eyes and they wouldn’t close. That has stayed with me as a form of anxiety again. I do have a fear of death but no it’s a reality of life. I’d like to think there’s something more after this life but I have my doubts sometimes and that really scares me

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss. I fear death also but try to remind myself of it’s inevitability. I agree- I’d like to think there’s something more, but who knows? Thanks for reading, and feel free to share

  20. Crickette, The Things I Have to Say

    I believe the WHY part is right before you enter the DENIAL STAGE. When my husband and I separated I stayed in the WHY part for some time because I was trying to figure out if I could’ve have done something to salvage it.

    Grief… whether caused by death or separation, is heavy to bare. I was in pain for a long time before I finally got on my feet. But I’ll tell you this, when you finally get you footing, you will be stronger than before.

  21. It has been just over a year since I lost my Mum, I travel through the stages frequently but denial and they why are still ones I struggle to process so much.

    Thank you for sharing, its a brilliantly well thought out post about a very difficult subject x

    1. I am so sorry. I dread losing my mom since we’re very close. She was the first person I came out to.

      I appreciate the kind words. Feel free to share if you find it helpful!

    1. Unfortunately yes. I have very visceral, deep memories of stepping into my grandma’s house around the holidays. The way it smelled. The decorations she used year after year. It’s so hard. Thanks for reading and feel free to share!

  22. This post was very well timed for me. I lost my mum in Feb this year. He had dementia and it took her so quickly. I’ve been an utter mess to be honest.,going back and forward through alm the stages you mention. However, over last couple of months, it’s become easier but suddenly l find myself stuck in a loop of why questions and its heartbreaking. Scattering mums ashes helped, l also had a tattoo done, with some of her ashes in the ink, which has also helped with acceptance. I think the reason it feel so tough right now though is likely because of christmas approaching. Anyway, lve rambled, but thank you for this post. It’s made me realise l need to write about mum. I havent been able too since she died but now l think it would help.

    1. You are very welcome. I am so so sorry for your loss. It is such a terrible illness. The tattoo idea is so beautiful! What a great way to preserve her memory.

      Feel free to share the post with family and friends if you found it helpful. Best wishes!

  23. This article really hit home for me. I just recently lost my grandfather, which was really hard. I got to spend some time with family and it really helped with the grief process. It’s always hard, but we can get through it.

  24. First of all – love the new theme.
    Second – wow. This hit me quite hard. I’ve went through all of these in a variety of orders. When granda passed there was instant pain, followed by a deep depression. When granny died 6 weeks later I was numb, and now I’m just angry. Every time I think about cancer, every time the word is uttered or I hear the word ‘terminal’ I just want to hit something. It’s not fair, nothing about life or death is fair.

    Grief can be so complicated for everyone.

    Sending you lots of love pet. If you ever want to share stories with me or just talk about it, I’m here. x

    1. Thanks! I like it too so far!

      Sending hugs. Terminal illness sucks. No way around it. Especially you losing them so close to each other. I’m so sorry! I’m here too if you wanna chat.

  25. Great post here. I agree with Elizabeth Kubler Ross in that these stages are not inclusive nor in order. And time does not necessarily heal all wounds. I liked your suggestions for coping with grief. One of the biggest ones that has helped me is immersion in nature. Whether it’s a walk outdoors cycling on a greenway, exploring a local garden or a trip to the beach, nature is incredibly healing. I highly recommend it. Meditation or prayer is another big factor in helping cut the suffering of grief tremendously. Thank you for this blog. It is important for everyone.

  26. This was such a wonderful post, thank you so much for writing and sharing it. I thought the real life examples you used helped me understand them more (I’m so sorry about your grandmother. She sounds like she was an incredible woman!). I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and how I’m going to deal with it when the time comes (there have been some reason serious diagnosises in my family lately) and this is an incredibly useful post. Again, thank you for breaking it down and giving some tips and reassurances that everything you feel is normal. It’s hard for everyone, just in different ways.

    Emily | https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com

    1. Thank you for the kind words. She was amazing! I’m sorry your family has some tough times ahead. That’s never easy. But glad you found the post useful. Feel free to share!

  27. I have dealt with grief So many times. One of the hardest was losing my brother in an accident when he was a young man. Looking back on the last 20 years, I can see how your stages played out in my life. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post.

  28. Losing my grandmother last year was, and still is, extremely hurtful.

    When my mother told me my grandma had died I just shrugged and said: “Well, she was very sick, I was kind of expecting it, right?”. I was in that state of shock for around 3 months until I finally started to realize what had happened. At first, I thought I was taking it cool, but months later I started crying, finally. So, I would totally add “SHOCK” as the first stage lol 🙂 But I’m not sure if that counts as denial, though. Maybe.

    Thanks for writing this post and for opening a space for us to share our painful experiences!

    – aimlief

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