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The five stages of grief

24 January 2022

It’s likely that you will go through a number of different emotions after you lose someone close to you. Here we look at the five stages of grief and how they can affect you after a bereavement.

Grieving woman
It's likely you will go through some of these stages when grieving

Grief is a very unique experience; there isn’t a right or wrong way of dealing with a loss and it can take a long time to come to terms with. Often the grief journey starts with numbness and shock when that person first finds out someone has died, or is going to die, and then it’s about the denial, anger, sadness and fear, before trying to find out why it happened.

Sometimes people will look towards religion and spirituality and they will come to some acceptance and move on, but still keep that bond with the person who has died. It may be that people get stuck or they go back to the beginning with their grief. It is different for everyone, but it can help if people understand that these emotions are normal and they are not alone.

Read our tips for dealing with grief.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief

The five stages of grief were talked about by the late psychiatrist and author Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying (1969). This focused on the stages of loss and grief for terminally ill people, as well as those who are left bereaved.

Not everyone will go through these stages and there may be newer models that you identify with that look at ‘continuing bonds’ where we focus more on the relationship continuing with someone who has died. These stages will also not necessarily happen in any order, but understanding them can reassure you during the grieving process.

1. Denial and isolation

Where you can’t believe that it has actually happened. You may feel shocked and overwhelmed and life will make no sense.

2. Anger

The realisation and frustration that the person’s death is a reality, along with feelings of ‘why has this happened’? It could be anger at different things – at God, your loved one, yourself or other people.

3. Bargaining

This is when someone tries to avoid grief, so perhaps you may wish that could go back in time and bring that person back. It’s almost as if this stage helps keep us focused on the past so we don’t have to deal with all the things we are feeling in the present.

4. Depression

The feeling of missing someone so much that you may not feel like you can go on. There may be sadness and regrets, worries or intense feelings of emptiness. Depression after a bereavement isn’t necessarily the same as clinical depression, but is a natural response to losing someone we love and can last a long time.

5. Acceptance:

An understanding that everything is going to be okay, emotions become more stable and a sense that life will get better. Rather than it being that we are ‘cured’, it is more that we can accept the period of depression following a loss and feel ready to try and move on.

If you are struggling with grief, read our guide to finding counselling after bereavement

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.