Coping After a Loss: Grief and Change

Death is inevitable. Unfortunately, knowing that death comes to us all does not make losing a loved one any easier. Grief is a completely normal emotion, although a difficult one for many to endure. For four decades, doctors have described grief in five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, you will be hard pressed to find a psychologist or psychiatrist that will describe these stages as strict steps or a guidebook. Grief looks different for every person. The hope is that, no matter how great the loss may be or feel right now, there is hope for healing and coping afterward.

First and foremost, there is nothing wrong with you and there is no right or wrong way to deal with the death of a loved one. To understand the five stages is to understand your own emotional process.

Stage 1: Denial

Denial is the first stage and is the mind’s way of protecting itself. This stage is vital because although it may feel like life is suddenly mundane or even meaningless, this stage is about survival and accepting only as much as our mind can handle at a given moment.

Stage 2: Anger

Anger is a very normal stage in the grieving process.  We are often angry at ourselves, others, or the person who died for “leaving us”.  The key is allowing yourself to feel that anger, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel.

Stage 3: Bargaining

This process can often begin even before the death of a loved one. You begin praying or meditating and considering everything you might be willing to do or give up to spare your loved one. After a death, a multitude of “what ifs” emerge. This is a coping mechanism, as one might hope that a small truce can ease the pain.

Stage 4: Depression

After dwelling on how things might have been different, there is depression. You are suddenly back in the present and fully embracing the reality of not having that loved one a short phone call away. The most important thing to note is that this depression is not a mental illness and is a completely normal response to the death of a loved one. Because every step in the grieving process is crucial to healing, you must allow yourself to feel everything – even sadness and depression.

Stage 5: Acceptance

It is important to note right off the bat that you may never be completely “okay” with a loss. This stage is specifically about moving through, not moving on your life post-loss. More than anything else, it is about recognizing your new reality where your loved one is no longer physically with you.

The five stages of grief are completely normal but they do not have a specific timeline; it looks different for everyone. Wherever you may find yourself in the process, it is important to seek counseling. For many people, just having a therapist acknowledge or reassure you that your symptoms and feelings are normal, can help you cope with your loss. There is no reason to feel alone or like you are drowning during this difficult time.

Contact Advantage Mental Health Center to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced staff members. There is definitely someone who understands what you are going through and who can be alongside you as you find yourself traveling through the five stages of grief.