July 1, 2022

Understanding the 5 Stages of Grief

by Ilisa Kaufman, Psy.D.

The 5 stages of grief were formed and identified by Psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD. She is the author of the best-selling book, On Death and Dying. She spent a lot of time around people near the end of life, and their loved ones, and she identified 5 stages that people go through when dealing with grief and loss. They are: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. These stages can come and go in any order. Also, you could find yourself in one of the stages for minutes or months. For example, you could be in acceptance stage for 3 months, and suddenly wind up in bargaining, and then back to acceptance five minutes later.


This is typically the first stage that people will go through when experiencing loss. In this stage, the person may feel shock, numb, detached, and everything and everyone around them feels distant and surreal. The person usually can only concentrate on getting through each day and just surviving. The denial phase is a way of protecting the person, since the loss is so heavy and horrible, this is the psyche way of helping the individual cope.

The thought of never seeing or hearing or having the one you lost, is so overwhelming, the brain deals by denying this concept, so the person can not take on more than they can stand.


Bargaining is a way for the person, who is grieving, to feel a sense of control over that which is uncontrollable, death. Before a loss, bargaining will sound like, “If only you don’t take my loved one, I promise to clean the house every day and be a better person.” After a loved one has passed, bargaining can sound more like, “what if’s”, and “if only’s”. “What if I was in town that day, like she asked, she might not have died.” Or, “if only I had called him that day, he might still be here.” A person may even make “inner deals” that they will now devote themselves to being a better person.


Anger is a very necessary and normal emotion when dealing with grief and loss. It is healthy to feel extremely angry that your loved one was taken from you and is not longer here with you. It is painful to go through the grief and the devastation of the person being taken out of your life. This is an important part of the grieving process to feel an intense amount of anger about what happened. About being cheated from more years with the person.


This stage is exactly as it sounds, it is a time to feel sad and mournful. They feel teary and even hopeless. Thoughts like, “Why bother going on?” or “What is the point of it all?” can be present in this stage. The overwhelming sadness of how much the person they have lost will be missed.


This is a stage where the person fully accepts that their loved one is gone. They enter a phase where they realize they must continue and carry on in life without their loved one. There is sometimes a sense of “letting go” or “hope.” Sometimes, the person will think that they need to “live for themselves and the departed.”


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