The five stages of emotional recovery model was developed by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. It provides a format for a better understanding of how the grief process operates.
The first stage of grief is denial – a defence mechanism which cushions the initial shock of losing a loved one. During this stage we deny the reality of the situation. Kubler-Ross explains that denial allows the grieving person to pace their feelings and come to their senses. Denial and shock help people cope with the loss. The denial stage doesn’t last for long and over time we will recover from the initial shock. To cope with this stage, it’s important to remember that denying the reality of the situation is normal.
The second stage of grief is anger, which may take many forms. Feelings of irritation, jealously and resentment may arise. The grieving person might be angry at anyone – the person who has passed away, their family, friends or even themselves. During this stage one may isolate themselves from the people they love and push others away. To cope with this stage, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the anger. The more you do this, the more the anger will fade and the more you will recover.
After anger comes bargaining – an attempt to bring a loved one back, knowing this is physically not possible. The person grieving may find themselves stuck in the past, wanting life to be how it once was and begging to get back what they have lost. Thoughts of ‘if only’ and ‘what if’ will crowd the mind. Feelings of guilt can accompany this stage. One may wish that they had done something differently or wish they could go back in time to change something. Bargaining can act as an escape from the reality, pain and suffering they are feeling.
Feelings of emptiness and grief become more intense once the bargaining stage has passed. The stage of depression feels as though it might last forever. A grieving person may not want to leave their house or even their bed. During this stage it’s important to remember that this type of depression doesn’t signify mental illness. Depression after losing a loved one is normal – it’s understandably a depression situation. This type of depression won’t be hanging over you for the rest of your life. You must remember to take care of yourself during this time.
The fifth and final stage of grief is acceptance. This is not being ‘OK’ with what has happened, but rather accepting the reality of the situation – our loved one is physically gone forever. For some, it may take years to reach this stage and it might take something momentous for this to happen. No one will ever like the reality. Once this stage has been reached, progress in living and enjoying life can be made. One may feel as though they are betraying their loved one who has passed away by moving on. This is not the case, as nothing can replace what has been lost.
Some people grieving may go through all of these stages while others may only go through some, or experience the stages in a different order. While going through each of stage, overall, the most important thing to remember is that it’s normal. All of the feelings you experience are normal. If you need help coping with these feelings, do not hesitate to talk to someone.