Stages of Grief and Loss

December 30, 2013

Stages of Grief and Loss

by Ivan Dimitrijevic

Losing someone is not easy. Every culture in the world has its own way of mourning the dead, but the thing that connects every single culture in the universe is grieving the lost one and the effect it leaves on people.

There are different ways of showing grief, but overcoming grief comes after certain stages of grief and loss. The stages are:

  • Denial and isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Denial and isolation

The first reaction to learning about your loved one’s terminal illness is denying the reality of the situation and the loss of rational thinking. It is a normal reaction to rationalize these strong, overwhelming emotions. Rationalizing is a defense mechanism that softens the intense, immediate shock. All we do in these situations is block out certain words and hide the facts that are connected with the subject of loss. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first stages of pain and grief.


The second stage in this rough period of your life is anger. It comes as the masking effect of denial, isolation and rationalization – reality hits you and its pain re-emerges. That means that we haven’t done the thing yet. The core of intense emotions is deflected, redirected and expressed as anger. The anger may be aimed at everything around the individual that’s suffering; objects, strangers, friends, family, even children. It may be even directed at the dying or already deceased one. By thinking rationally, we know that the person is not to be blamed, but emotionally we may insult the person for causing us pain and a hard time or for leaving us too early. We feel guilt, anger, which makes us more frustrated and, as a result, angrier.

There is also a situation where the doctor who diagnosed the illness and was unable to cure it and he or she becomes a suitable target. Do not hesitate to ask the doctor to devote some extra time to you or to explain everything in more detail. Arrange a special appointment to learn about everything you need to know related to the sickness.


Bargaining is a normal reaction to feeling helpless and vulnerable and it is often needed in order to regain control –

  • If we had only contacted the doctor sooner…
  • If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
  • If only we had tried to be better to the person…

Secretly, we make a deal with higher powers or various deities in an attempt to avoid the inevitable. This is the weakest line of defense to protect us from the painful reality. It’s also called superstition.


Two types of depression are connected with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications related to the loss. Sadness and regret are dominating emotions in this type of depressive state. We worry about everything, even the costs and the burial. Constant worrying if our final times with the loved one were badly utilized is also present. The stage can be eased with a little bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. If not treated, this can evolve into major depressive disorder.

The second type of post-loss depression is more subtle and, in a sense, more private. It is a quiet preparation to separate and to wish our loved one farewell. Sometimes all we really need is a friendly hug. Friends and family are always there for us, even though it may not seem like that. They feel sorry for the loss just like you, so talking with them can always be helpful.

Finally, acceptance

Death may be sudden and unexpected and we may never see anything beyond our anger or denial. It is not a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity for peace. This stage is marked with withdrawal and calmness. This is not a period of happiness, but it is different from depression.  You can feel that depression is wearing off, the people around you look more familiar and things are going back to normal, maybe not right now, but hope is always there. Your private mourning period is over and you could start talking about the loss with a little more thinking than before.

These represent the five stages of grief taken from the Kübler-Ross model.

Not everything is lost

Dying is inevitable. As someone dies, maybe it’s the thought of not seeing the person again or maybe it’s the frightening for your own death. You really can’t explain it, but you have to accept it. It’s a normal part of living, even though some cultures see it as an end; nobody really knows what happens after. That should not make you more frightened, but more rational.

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