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The Five Phases of Grief And How To Cope

Feelings of loss and grief are a natural part of the human experience, and can occur in a wide variety of challenging circumstances–from breaking up with a partner to losing a job, leaving one’s home, or coping with the death of a loved one. The more significant your loss, the more intense your grief may be.

At Southeastern Med, part of our everyday spiritual care services involve helping patients and families who are experiencing loss. Our bereavement and grief support staff understand that everyone grieves in their own way, and that each person’s unique religious beliefs, practices, and coping mechanisms should be taken into account. There is no “right” or “wrong way” to grieve; the best we can do as healthcare professionals is to offer an ear, a shoulder, and some guidance that may help ease your burden.

You may have heard about the “five phases of grief.” This is one way of giving context to the grieving process and showing how people–regardless of their age, faith, or background–will often turn to similar, relatable behaviors in the face of a substantial personal loss.

As you grieve, you may feel:

  • Denial: This is a common defense mechanism when you experience a loss of someone or something. You may be in shock or disbelief that something like this could happen, so you deny to yourself that it has occurred or wonder how life will go on. Denial will usually fade after some time, and the feelings you were rejecting will come to light.
  • Anger: This is often viewed as a negative feeling, but during the grieving process, anger shows the depth of your love toward who or what you lost. You may feel angry with your friends and family, the person who passed, or even God. It’s natural to feel alone and abandoned during this phase, but often times, the closest people in your life will empathize with these emotions and be willing to help you through them.
  • Bargaining: This stage is full of “what if” and “if only” statements. With these statements comes the feeling of guilt. You may start to think that there is something you could have done differently to change your current reality, or blame yourself for what happened.
  • Depression: It’s important to recognize that depression related to loss is not a mental illness, but a normal and appropriate response to the loss you have experienced. Many times, depression is eased by reassurance from others. Eventually, you will realize things are not going to return to normal and that your loved one is not coming back.
  • Acceptance: In this phase, you will come to accept your new normal and realize that it is here to stay. Acceptance does not mean you are all right or OK, but that you recognize you can’t continue to live like you once did and must start to readjust. You may still have some bad days, but there will be far more good days. You will start to live your life again, but more importantly, you will enjoy it. You can’t replace what was lost, but you can move forward with making new connections, meeting new people and finding new things to make you happy.

The process of grieving should help you learn to live with the loss you suffered and adjust to your new life – one of purpose and meaning. Just be patient. Grieving appropriately takes as long as it needs to take. For some, learning to live with loss happens quickly, but for others it may take years.

If you need help, please feel free to contact one of our chaplains via our spiritual care page linked above. There are also many fantastic counseling services in our area who are there to help.


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