Losing a loved one is never easy, no matter how close you may have been to the person. Whether you’re coping with the loss of a spouse, a friend, a family member, or someone else in your life, you are going to experience the classic stages of grief. By knowing what to expect with each of these stages, you can navigate your way through grief recovery and improve the quality of your mental health moving forward.
NOTE: Everyone Grieves Differently
Before you read about the stages of grief, it is important to note that every person processes grief differently. You may go through the stages in a different order, or you may skip over a stage entirely. This guide simply illustrates the most common experiences people go through when coping with the loss of a loved one so you may understand your feelings a little better along the way.
Stage One – Denial And Disbelief
The first stage of grief may happen before your loved one passes away. You may experience shock and disbelief at the severity of the situation, or you may deny your feelings altogether. It is common to feel “numb” when you first get the news that someone you love has passed or is on the verge of passing, especially if the death was sudden and unexpected.
Common Feelings And Reactions:
- Distraction And An Inability To Focus
- Gaps In Short Term Memory, Like What You Had To Eat Earlier Or What You Did Yesterday
- Self-Alienation And Withdrawal, Both Mentally And Physically
- Confusion And Disorientation
- Feeling Spaced Out, Like Your Mind Cannot Process Common Day To Day Activities
This stage of grief may last for a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months before you are able to fully come to terms with what has happened. The numbness that you feel is designed to prevent you from having a complete meltdown in the midst of the shock, so feel free to let it run its course. Do not use this as an excuse to bottle your emotions though. Talk to other people about how you are feeling and why you are feeling that way while you look back on pleasant moments with your loved one. This may be a good time to seek help from a grief counselor to guide you through the recovery process and learn ways to cope with the emotions you’re experiencing.
Stage Two – Pain And Self-Blame
The second stage of grief is often the hardest to get through. This is when the emotions that have been building up in stage one come to the surface, flooding your mind with thoughts of guilt, depression, emptiness, and much more. At this point, you may begin to question why your loved one died and what role you played in his or her death. For many people, this leads to self-blame, regardless of how much their efforts actually impacted the passing of the deceased.
Common Feelings And Reactions:
- Overwhelming Moments Of Sadness Or Crying That You Cannot Control
- Exhaustion And Fatigue, Even After Hours Of Heavy Sleep
- Restlessness Or An Inability To Fall Asleep
- Self-Deprivation And Self-Blame
- Obsessive Thoughts About Your Lost Loved One, Especially The Events Leading To His Or Her Passing
- Guilty Feelings About Being Alive, Moving Forward, Or Not Doing Enough To Prevent The Person’s Death
- Mood Swings That Happen Without Warning
If you have not sought the help of a grief counselor yet, this would be a great time to start. Working with a professional grief therapist will help you get your emotions out and learn how to process all of the feelings you are being hit with. In general, you must stop blaming yourself for the loss of your loved one and understand that it’s okay to move forward. You will never forget a special person in your life, even if you get happy with someone else in the future. Control the thoughts that keep you up late at night and stop feeling guilty about how the situation played out. This will take time to do, but once you are able to heal your mind and your spirit, you can start to enjoy life like your loved one would want you to do.
Stage Three – Anger And Bitterness
The third stage of grief often happens before or during the second stage of guilt. The mood swings from stage two may cause you to go from being happy to being extremely sad about being overwhelmingly angry within a short period of time. Stage three is what many may refer to as the “self-pity” phase, where you find yourself asking questions like “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” Something as simple as a song on the radio or a glimpse at someone who looks like the deceased may cause you to turn enraged or hostile without warning.
Common Feelings And Reactions:
- Irritability, Particularly When People Around You Complain About Minimal Problems In Their Lives
- Frustration, Anger, And Resentment
- Self-Preservation That Causes You To Lose Trust In Others Or Pull Yourself Away From Social Settings
- Negative Responses To Someone’s Sincere Sympathy
- Avoidance Of Happy, Celebratory Events
This stage requires a unique form of anger management because the root cause of the anger is grief, not rage. Let other people know what you are going through and explain to them why you are not in the best of spirits. Your friends and family members will forgive you and they will understand your actions better if they are aware of your mindset.
Avoid interacting with people who spark your anger. This may not necessarily be people who are angry or combative themselves. In fact, it may be the people who are the most pleasant to talk to and be around. If their presence makes you more upset, it would be best for both of you to stay away from each other until you are able to get better control over your feelings.
Remember to give yourself some compassion. It is normal to want to help others through their grief recovery, but you also need to show some sympathy to yourself for what you are going through. What you are feeling is completely natural, so you should not punish yourself mentally or emotionally for feeling angry or frustrated. Show compassion to yourself and you will soon be able to take control of your emotions.
Stage Four – Acceptance And Progression
Despite all of the mood swings that come with the stages of grief, there eventually comes a point where your feelings balance themselves out and you are able to accept your life the way it is now. Yes, you have gone through a huge emotional undertaking, and yes, your new life will never be the same as it was before. Nevertheless, you can now come to terms with where your life is and where it is heading so you can move forward to a brighter future.
Common Feelings And Emotions
- Higher Frequencies Of Positive Moments, Laughter, And Joy
- Reconnection With Loved Ones You May Have Pushed Away Before
- Mental Clarity And Awareness
- Determination, Knowing That You Can And Will Get Through This
- Feeling Like Yourself Again
Whether you reach this stage on your own or through the help of grief counseling, embrace this new milestone in your life. Find new ways to make yourself feel happy, needed, and loved. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you, and remind yourself that you deserve to feel joy once again. Continue to work with a counselor to keep your spirits up, and you will make it through the grief process in triumph.