What Stage of Grief Are You In?

“The only incontrovertible fact of my work is the importance of life. I always say that death can be one of the greatest experiences ever. If you live each day of your life right, then you have nothing to fear."

Those were the words of Swiss-born psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Her bestselling book, On Death and Dying, compiled insights she gleaned from terminally ill patients, and most notably, her conclusion that people typically struggle through five stages at the end of life, including:

  • Denial

  • Anger

  • Bargaining

  • Depression

  • Acceptance

These stages are not sequential and not everyone will go through each one. It’s important to note that the stages she is referring to were the result of studying the dying, not the grieving.

A study performed by Yale School of Medicine relabeled each stage to more accurately reflect grieving the death of a loved one. In addition, they substituted “stages” with “indicators,” to:

  • Disbelief about the death

  • Yearning

  • Anger

  • Depressive mood

  • Acceptance

In this study, the researchers empirically measured the magnitude of grief indicators over time. They found that as disbelief declined from the first month post loss, yearning rose until four months post loss and then declined. Anger over the death was fully expressed at five months post loss. After anger declines, severity of depressive mood peaks at approximately six months post loss and thereafter diminishes in intensity through 24 months post loss. Acceptance increased steadily through the study observation period ending at 24 months post loss, as shown in Figure 1 below.

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The study only used data from a sample of community-based bereaved individuals who have lost a loved one through natural causes. Therefore, the results of the study shown in Figure 1, are not absolute and may not apply to your situation. The cause of death, the amount of time the recipients had to cope with their diagnosis, the relationship with their loved one, etc., also affect how individuals cope with the lost. Therefore, it is meant to just show the general experience of the sample group.

I personally identified with these indicators through my husband’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, and later, death. I found it helpful to be able to name the feelings I was having. Similarly, you may find that these indicators may help you identify where you are in the grieving process too.

I also found it helpful to know that all those feelings are part of normal grieving. As you can see in Figure 1, throughout the grief journey of the sample group, people experienced all five feelings throughout their grief journey, though some feelings were more intense than others as more time passed. Noticing whenever there are changes in your thoughts and feelings may be helpful to you as well. You may notice some progress or feel you are moving closer to feelings of acceptance. Maybe you notice that you are having trouble moving beyond grief indicators such as anger and depression, and should consider seeking help.  

Grieving the loss of a loved one is not a process with an ending point though. I believe we will always yearn, disbelieve, get angry or depressive about our loss… but hopefully, we can all get to a point where we can accept the situation and find ways to move forward.

Naomi BourgeoisComment