Dealing-with-a-Bereavement-–-The-Five-Stages-of-Grief

This article contains stories from people who have been bereaved and readers who are currently coping with the loss of a loved one may find this distressing. You may wish to read it at a later date, or after speaking with a retailTRUST advisor on 0808 801 0808. They can help you to talk through your feelings, and offer a confidential, listening ear.

Developed in 1969 by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the ‘five stages of grief’ model is a helpful way to understand the human response to loss.

All five stages contribute to coming to terms with a death or another significant event. While we might think of the stages as lasting for a set period of time, they are responses to feelings that can change rapidly. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. Instead, we encounter one stage, and then another, only to go back and forth as we recover from our loss. 

Stage one – shock and denial

Even in situations where the person’s death was expected, we are likely to feel total disbelief when a loved one dies. The urge to deny the loss, either consciously or subconsciously, is normal. It is in fact a useful psychological response which helps us to adapt to a new reality in the early days.

For weeks or months after the death of a loved one, we may expect them to walk through the door at their usual time. We might start to dial their phone number before realising they’re gone, or we find ourselves turning to the person to say something only to find that they’re not there. Denial is part of the healing process, and slowly recedes as we start to come to terms with the loss.

What might someone feel in the shock and denial stage?

  • Stunned
  • Disbelief
  • Numb
  • Isolated
  • ’Up and down’
  • Confused
  • Afraid.

“The weekend after he died, I woke up feeling really good. It was a beautiful, early spring morning, and I clearly remember thinking that it’d be a great day for a walk in the hills. But within five minutes, I suddenly remembered that he was gone. I felt like I’d been punched. I literally couldn’t breathe. This would happen at the most unexpected moments, and each time, I was stunned by the realisation that I would never see him again.”

Heather speaking about her father’s death

Stage two – anger

Feelings of anger can come and go, and some people may continue to experience anger for an extended period. You might be angry with the person for leaving you, or you may be angry at your God. People in this stage may also feel guilty for being angry, but this is a very natural part of the process. Anger is a way to express difficult feelings – it’s important that the anger doesn’t cause you or others any harm.

What might someone feel in the anger stage?

  • Hostile
  • Snappy
  • Frustrated
  • Guilty
  • Out of control
  • Persecuted
  • Impatient
  • Tense.

“I’m usually a pretty laid-back guy, but I was furious. I mean, just appalled that she’d died. I was angry with her for leaving, with the doctors for not saving her, at myself for missing her death by twenty minutes. Although I felt like a selfish, terrible person for being angry, I couldn’t seem to control it. I was angry at everyone and everything.”

Barry speaking about his partner’s death

Stage three – bargaining

When someone we love dies, it’s only natural to want to go back in time. We might wonder what we could have done differently. Maybe if we’d pushed our loved one to see the doctor earlier than they did, or not let them drive the car that day, they’d still be here. Although people who have never been bereaved may find the bargaining stage irrational, it’s entirely logical to wonder what one could have done differently to stop the death from occurring. This is not to say that it was anyone’s fault that the person died, but it can feel like it.

Bereaved people might also bargain with the pain itself and commit to doing things to not feel the heartache.

What might someone do in the bargaining stage?

  • Ruminate on what they could have done to prevent the death
  • Tell their story to other people in the hopes of making sense of their loss
  • Make deals with themselves or their God.

“I literally got on my hands and knees one morning. I was exhausted from feeling more awful than I ever thought humanly possible. I told God, the universe, whatever is out there, that I’d do anything to make the pain stop. I’d go to church, I’d give my time to a charity, I’d be a better person. Anything to feel better, even if just for a few minutes.”

Margot speaking about her daughter’s death

Stage four – depression

It’s important to understand that grief-related depression is not a mental health problem, but a natural part of the grieving process. Who wouldn’t feel depressed having lost someone they love? The feelings of depression during this stage can come and go. Some days the bereaved might feel relatively okay, while other days might find them feeling paralysed by grief. The loss of a loved one is life-changing, and to feel depressed, low or sad is a very normal and appropriate response. Grief is a process, and depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way.

What might someone feel in the depression stage?

  • Sad
  • Hopeless
  • Demotivated
  • Exhausted
  • Lonely
  • Afraid
  • Out of control
  • Broken
  • Confused.

“The depression came in waves. There were days when I felt marginally okay, maybe even optimistic for moments, but then, without any warning, bang, I’d be enveloped in a wave of despair. I couldn’t stay in bed all day – I have kids and also had to go back to work – but it was really tempting. I wondered if I’d ever be able to hear ‘our song’ again without crying or watch our favourite television series without falling apart. The word sad doesn’t cover it.”

Sean speaking about his wife’s death

Stage five – acceptance

This stage is often mistaken as being ‘over’ the death of loved one, or ‘back to normal’. But it’s really about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and understanding that their loss is permanent. Bereavement changes us on every level, and life will never be the same as it once was. It will just be different.

Arriving at acceptance means that we are no longer resisting the loss but acknowledging that life will continue in a new way. As we move through acceptance, we are learning to reorganise roles, reassigning them to other people, or taking them on ourselves. We are finding new strengths within ourselves and developing new interests and relationships which are totally separate to the person we’ve lost.

Acceptance can also means having more good days than bad ones. We can never replace what’s been lost, but we can build a new and satisfying life for ourselves. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we’ll forget about the person who has died – we may think of them every day for the rest of our lives – but as we begin to live without them, we learn that we are stronger than we ever thought possible.

What might someone do in the acceptance stage?

  • Reconnect with old friends and acquaintances
  • Establish new friendships
  • Build new internal coping mechanisms
  • Find new interests, or revisit old ones
  • Create new traditions
  • Feel new hope about the future.

“My husband died two years ago. I felt totally lost for the first year, like one part of my body was missing. It was really strange to think of being in a world without him. But the other day I ran into one of his old colleagues and actually found myself laughing as she and I talked about him. He was such a force of nature and made everyone feel happier just for being in his presence. When I got home, I felt lighter than I’ve felt in a long time, like I’d re-entered the earth’s atmosphere. I still miss him terribly and always will, but I’m grateful for the time we had together. I’m better for having known him, and I’m so proud to have been his husband.”

Andrej speaking about his husband’s death

Further resources you might find helpful

Organisations which you might find helpful

For bereaved adults:

Click for more information on Cruse Bereavement Care

A confidential helpline for anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by bereavement.

One-to-one grief counselling.

Online discussion and support forums for bereaved people.

Support groups.

Publications and downloads on all aspects of grief.

For parents and carers of children and young people who have been bereaved:

Click for more information on the Childhood Bereavement Network

A range of online resources for parents, carers and others who are supporting a child or young person through a bereavement.

Local support group network for any parent or family member wanting to share experiences of helping a child through bereavement.

Click for more information on Winston's Wish

A confidential helpline offering emotional support and advice for any parent, carer, or other adult who is helping a child or young person through a bereavement.

For bereaved children and young people: 

Click for more information on Child Bereavement UK

A confidential helpline offering emotional support for children and young people (up to the age of 25) who have been bereaved.

The helpline is also available for any parent, carer, or other adult who is helping a child or young person through a bereavement.

Click for more information on Hope Again

Cruse Bereavement Care’s service for children and teenagers offers a range of services designed specifically for those who have been bereaved at a young age:

A confidential helpline for any young person who has been bereaved.

Advice and guidance for parents, carers, educators and health professionals.

Referrals for face-to-face counselling via the Cruse Bereavement Care counselling network.

Downloadable information on all aspects of bereavement.

An online discussion forum for young people to share their experiences of loss.

After the death of a sibling (for children, young people and their parents):

Click for more information on Sibling support

A helpline run by siblings for siblings, offering children and young people emotional support after their loss.

Advice and guidance for parents and carers who are supporting a child or young person through a bereavement.

Downloadable information on all aspects of sibling bereavement.

After the death of a child:

Click for more information on the Child Death Helpline

A confidential helpline offering emotional support for anyone who has lost a child of any age including parents, grandparents, extended family members and family friends.

  • The Compassionate Friends tcf.org.uk 0345 123 2304

  • The Compassionate Friends Northern Ireland tcf.org.uk 0288 77 88 016

Click for more information on The Compassionate Friends

A confidential helpline offering emotional support for anyone grieving a child of any age including parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family members and family friends.

Local support groups.

Signposting to other services including face-to-face child bereavement counsellors.

Click for more information on 2 Wish Upon A Star

Emotional and practical support to anyone who has lost a family member under the age of 25.

Structured family bereavement counselling.

Play therapy for young bereaved family members.

After sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS):

Click for more information on the Lullaby Trust

A confidential helpline offering emotional support for anyone who has a lost a child to SIDS.

Local support groups.

Online discussion and support forums for bereaved parents.

Care of next infant programme.

Befriending service.

After a miscarriage or stillbirth:

  • SANDS – The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity sands.org.uk 0808 164 3332

Click for more information on SANDS

A confidential helpline offering emotional and practical support to parents and other family members who have suffered the loss of a baby through a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Local support groups.

Signposting to local counselling services.

Online discussion forums for bereaved parents.

After a miscarriage:

Click for more information on the Miscarriage Association

A confidential helpline offering emotional and practical support to parents who have suffered the loss of a baby through a miscarriage.

Local support groups.

Signposting to local counselling services.

Online discussion forums for bereaved parents.

After a miscarriage (Scotland): 

Click for more information on Scottish Care and Information on Miscarriage

A confidential helpline offering emotional and practical support to parents and other family members who have suffered the loss of a baby through a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Local support groups.

Signposting to local counselling services.

Future pregnancy support via specialised counselling.

After an ectopic pregnancy:

Click for more information on The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust

A confidential helpline offering emotional and practical support to anyone who has suffered an ectopic pregnancy, including their partner.

Downloadable guidance on all aspects of ectopic pregnancy.

Online discussion forums.

Individual and group remote support sessions.

After a suicide:

  • Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) uksobs.org

Click for more information on SOBS

A confidential helpline offering support to anyone over the age of 18 who has been bereaved by a suicide.

Face-to-face support groups are available in many parts of the country.

Downloadable resources for individuals and those involved in the study of suicide bereavement.

After a homicide or manslaughter:

  • Support After Murder & Manslaughter (SAMM) samm.org.uk 0121 472 2912 

Click for more information on SAMM

A confidential helpline for anyone who has lost someone to homicide or manslaughter offering emotional support and advice on the legal aspects of this type of loss.

Online support forum specifically for families who share this kind of loss.

Signposting to relevant services local to you.

Retreats for people who have lost someone in this way.

After the loss of a pet:

Click for more information on Blue Cross Pet Care

A confidential helpline staffed by trained volunteers offering emotional and practical support after the loss of a pet whether through death or enforced separation.

 

* Please note that the names of the bereaved have been changed to protect their privacy.