Grief & Loss

Stages of Grief

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

What are the stages of grief? I’d like to discuss them and what those mean for me. I first researched this when I was much younger and I lost my dad to a heart attack. At the age of 14, I had no life experience to fall back on. Everything was brand new. Sure, I’d lost people I knew before. It wasn’t exactly anything new. However, I had never lost someone so close to me. So I researched it, and it honestly has helped me ever since.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

Thomas Campbell

Because I learned how I respond to grief and what was MY normal. My normal may differ from yours. So please don’t read this and think it should all apply to you. Everybody experiences grief differently, but this is meant to be kind of a baseline and to guide you through the process a bit and better understand it. Hopefully you can use this to kind of learn about yourself and how you respond to grief and take better care of yourself as you go through it.

I feel like if more people understood the grief process for themselves, they could grieve in a more productive way. I say that because it seems like people go through the process and seem to beat themselves up. Like, I’ve been depressed for two weeks now, I should be done and over it now. Or, well-meaning friends and family think someone has grieved long enough and it’s time to just get over it. I personally don’t think enough people understand it enough to really help each other.

Some stages may last longer than others, some may feel like you just kind of skipped them over. Or, you may go back and forth between a couple of them. That is perfectly normal.

Shock and disbelief This is kind of that moment where you just sort of sit down and are trying to figure it all out and understand. A million questions running through your mind. Many people respond to the initial shock by thinking it is all a big joke. This would be your mind going into shock and trying to figure it all out. I always kind of feel like this is the moment where I should burst into hysterical tears, and yet every time, nothing.

No idea why I think that’s how I should respond, but it’s more like I just sort of sit down and wonder how in the world something horrible could be happening. It’s the weird stage for me where I look apathetic. Or at least that’s how I feel others see me. Which makes me worry. Because I think I look like a heartless person. This is the one single stage where I constantly worry what others think of me. Did I respond appropriately?

Denial That can’t be true. You misunderstood. It’s a joke. That person would never do that. They always did X and therefore Y shouldn’t have happened to them. Our loved one didn’t deserve to have had it happen to them. It feels like your brain is suddenly working overtime to come up with excuses or ways the bad news can’t be true.

Anger Everyone expresses anger differently. It can be screaming into a pillow or any kind of verbal expression of anger, to being physically abusive to themselves or others. Anger is perfectly normal. Everybody deals with the anger when going through the grief process. For me, this stage is the worst. Because I get mad that I’ve lost someone important to me and my world just collapsed. Yet, I get mad at myself for being mad. I know it’s healthy and there is nothing wrong with it because it is a completely normal stage in the grief process. But yet I end up mad at myself for being mad.

I am my own worst critic. The important thing here is to find healthy ways to let it out. Find your happy place to let it out. Some people pick violent video games, so they are shooting and blowing things up, but they aren’t actually hurting anyone. Others like the gym. Go sweat out your anger for an hour each day, beat your body up so you’re physically exhausted and have no choice but to relax and sleep. Some paint, cook, find ways to give to others through volunteering. There are a million different ways to let the anger out in a productive way, and it is up to you to find what works best for you.

Bargaining Some people find themselves pleading with god to bring someone back, promising they will cease doing something bad in return. I’ll never drink again if you bring Johnny back, kind of thing. Me, I’ve said myself, I would gladly take two lives in exchange for having the person I want back in my life. Give god two and he gives me one back. Who can go wrong with a 2 for 1 deal, right?! I’ll gladly pull the trigger and empty a magazine into a couple people for the one I want back. I know it can’t happen. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. It’s more wishful thinking and I have no idea why we do that. But, I guess wishful thinking is comforting at times.

Guilt This stage is more self-reflection than grief. I think it is the hardest of all, because it’s the place where we’ve come far enough to process the event and come to terms with it happening. Once we do that, then comes the part where we feel guilt and beat ourselves up. Why didn’t I leave earlier? Could I have changed the course of events if I had done something different? Why didn’t I do this or that? I feel like an idiot. I could’ve done something different. Or I should have done something different. Then I wouldn’t be here and going through this. If you’ve ever heard the term, your mind is your own worst enemy, yeah. That’s never a more true statement than in this stage of the grief process.

Depression Depression is often seen throughout the grief process, but it’s also often overshadowed by other emotions during other stages. This is where it becomes the number one feeling and we go through sort of a fog of daily life. This is the time where the little things bother us.

Checking the mail and seeing something addressed to the person you lost and bursting into tears. Going to the gym and wanting to text your accomplishments to that someone. Making some sort of food you would always share with them. Old habits die hard, even when someone is gone. Then the sudden realization or remembering that they are gone is like being punched in the stomach and face all at the same time. This is the time where someone going through the grief process has a tendency to isolate themselves from others more, and just wants to be alone. Because the reminders are simply too painful at times.

Acceptance This feels like coming out of a cave after a long hibernation and trying to reintegrate yourself into the world again. This is the point where we can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel again. Think of memories of the person we lost and find some joy in them instead of anguish. It’s not an overnight process, that’s for sure. So be patient with yourself as you deal with this. It’s a rebuilding of your life, establishing the new normal without someone in your life.

That isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t fun. But this is the stage where you start to feel the want to be part of life again. During some stages of the grief process, especially the depression stage, getting up and participating in real life is difficult. Here, you’ll find yourself slowly wanting to again.

“You gave me forever within the numbered days…”

John Green,
The Fault In Our Stars

Notes:

Grief is so very different for everyone. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t really do the denial or bargaining stages much. That’s just me. My appetite goes down the drain though. I have a terrible time eating. I distinctly remember the Monday after my best friend died, I went to the gym and my gym partner asked me how I was eating. This was nothing new or special. He checked in with me weekly about that and my weight. I simply remember my response being, “umm… I’m not eating right now.”

Like, I can’t physically make myself do it. Which is very common for me when I go through grief. When I was younger I would try to eat and appear to be normal. I’d get ready to take a bite and just couldn’t do it. So I buy things high in protein and eat small amounts every few hours. Protein drinks are my best friend. That way I’m at least doing something moderately healthy. Enough to keep myself from getting sick.  

I’ve learned about triggers. I can’t stop them all, but I can certainly try to keep them to a minimum until I’m ready to find joy in memories. I remember making salsa one day, and out of sheer habit, I set aside a container so my husband could take some to my best friend when he went to work. When you finally have the realization that you can’t send food to a dead person, it’s like a giant punch in the face. Sometimes it’s going by a place you used to go with that special person. Avoiding that for a while, especially in the beginning is a good thing.

There does come a point when you may want to confront memories and process through them. That’s great! Just be prepared for whatever happens. It may be easy, it may be difficult. The key is be patient with yourself. I’ve found when I want to confront a memory or place, I just do it. If I overthink it, I’m ruining whatever experience needed to happen.

Just take it one day at a time. One hour at a time. Do what is best for you. One day when I was in the area of my best friend’s house, I asked my husband to drive by it. I didn’t tell him what I wanted, just said, turn down this street for me please. I had no idea how I would feel going by and reliving both good and bad memories, but I knew I wanted to confront them either way. So I did and it helped. I avoided it for months, until I was ready though.

We all need to be patient with ourselves during the grief process. Yes, I’m stating the obvious. However, it may be obvious, but how many of us actually put that knowledge into practice? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Lol. I know I don’t. I’m my own worst critic. I’m impatient with myself, I harshly criticize myself and my feelings, my responses to everything. You know those memes we see on Facebook about not knowing what someone is going through, so be kind to everyone? I feel like we should apply that to ourselves too. Like, be patient and gentle with yourself. Don’t worry so much about being nice to others. Be nice to yourself first.

Just remember, you aren’t alone. You can reach out and talk to others. If friends or family can’t help you, there are other resources available. Many are better than family and friends because they are trained professionals. Please don’t be afraid to reach out. Never be afraid to reach out.

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Alfred Tennyson

34 Comments

  • Millie

    I’m so sorry to hear about your father, when you were younger. How people grief can be so different, and I think this was a really interesting insight into how you handled the situation.

    • The Prepping Wife

      Thanks, Millie! I’ve definitely learned over the years how I handle grief. It has really helped me to understand myself and my response. That gives me the opportunity to step back and really be more patient with myself, and know when I am ready to start healing and moving forward.

  • Scott DeNicola

    My first real brush with grief was when I lost a friend in high school in a motorcycle accident. Its never easy to lose someone but when the person it young and healthy it seems so much worse. I lost my father in 2001 right before 9/11 but he had cancer and we were expecting it. Yet I still second guessed decisions and how much time I spent with him etc. it is a difficult part of life and I would I urge everybody to read this article because you will face grief at some point. Well done

    • Lindsay Brown

      This was a really informative breakdown of the stages. It is the most difficult thing to have to go through, and I’m so sorry to hear about your father when you were so young.

      Recently I’ve been dreading this kind of a loss as my dad isn’t in the best of health. It is such a scary thought.

      I can relate to you with with the shock and disbelief stage. I too am very anti climatic when hearing about the loss of a loved one. As well always worrying that I am not “reacting” properly. Buy like you also said, we all grieve in our own way.

      This was a very informative article and I really enjoyed reading it.

  • Melody

    Processing our grief is, for sure, a personal and unique experience for everyone. But you have pulled all the stages together and understanding them can make it easier to get through them. We do have to process them individually but when it’s possible, letting others in to help can be a big benefit to getting through it. I’m sorry to hear about your father and friend. It’s never right or fair, it just is. Thank you for sharing your experience. I know it can help others to move from stage to stage until they can see the light again.

    • Mary

      Your statement about how we know what to do, but just don’t DO it really struck a chord with me. It’s so true. It’s like how we can give the best advice to others, but not take it for ourselves.

  • Nero

    I’m probably one of the fortunate few who’ve never had to deal with grief from losing a close friend or loved one, but this luck can only last so long. I feel like one day i’ll lose them all. And the thought of that is terrifying.

    • The Prepping Wife

      You are extremely lucky, Nero. I can understand that fear as well though. My advice to you is cherish the time you have with your loved ones now. One day the only thing you will have left are pictures and memories. Make the most out of that while you still can. That way when you look back on the time with those people, you have a reason to smile, knowing you took advantage of the time you had with them. I have three pictures (two are my FB profile and cover pics) with my best friend I lost. He knew how I felt about pictures, and even with hating taking them, he still indulged me in a few. They are extremely special because of that.

      • Rain Shalom

        Losing your loved one must have been a painful experience for you and I’m sorry about that. I have lost some friends and loved ones as well but not really to death but they walked out of my life. We were very close so the process was painful at the time, but after going through all the stages of anger, denial etc, you come to the stage of acceptance and it’s okay to grieve. And yes, I agree that if the pain is too much to bear, talk to a professional because they may be better at handling such matters.

  • Luna S

    Over the last two years I’ve lost a five family members so I know these stages quite well, helping family through everything was a bit challenging at time but we all helped each other.

  • Johnny Quid

    This post was right on time, as I recently lost a friend very near and dear to my heart. He was like a father to me, and sadly lost the battle to brain cancer. My anger came in the form of cursing cancer itself (as if that made any sense), like “WHY IS CANCER KILLING ALL MY LOVED ONES? WTF?!”. I was depressed there for a while, but I was able to get through it, and I accept that we had plenty of time together and I DID get to see him one last time before he left this world. We all deal with this type of thing differently.

  • Laura

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m sure this was a challenging post to write. It would be for me. Grief is never an easy feat to overcome and I really believe we need to go through the full process to fully heal. You’re right that we all can experience it a bit differently. I think our timelines for the grief process can vary to. Not only from person to person but also varies from situation to situation.

  • Ashley Brown

    It is so important that we handle grief properly so that we can heal and move on with our lives, not let the grief consume us. Thanks for sharing your story along with all of this important information

    Ashley
    mixtapeyogi.com

  • Tracy C

    It’s so important to remember that there’s no timeline for grief. Even when you think you’ve accepted the loss and moved on with your life, there will be times when your memories and grief will hit you hard.

  • Morgan

    Great post! As a therapist I have to agree with you – there are definitive stages – which is also talked a lot by Elizabeth Kubler Ross – and everyone handles and goes through the process differently. In my career I think dealing with grief is one of the hardest things to counsel a person through. It can be a lonely journey at times.
    Thanks!
    Morgan

  • Andrea (2oddravens)

    When I was 12, my grandmother died in a horrific fire. At the age of 60, she had fallen asleep while smoking cigarette. I’m 33 and still get choked up about it from time to time. If I drive by a fire, I sometimes quietly weep to myself.

    Grief is a crazy thing, and it’s really fascinating how it doesn’t necessarily go away. You just sort of evolve, so it doesn’t take over, but there are still triggers here and there to remind you of the person you lost.

    • The Prepping Wife

      Triggers are an interesting thing all by themselves. I have tattooed a half sleeve on my arm in memory of my best friend. It started small and slightly disjointed before growing into something amazing. After the first session, my husband and I went to eat at a fast food restaurant. The woman making our sandwich asked me about my tattoo. I have the dates of his life inside of two ammunition rounds. She asked me what the dates represented, and this was the very first time someone asked me about it. Once she said something, all I saw were the events of that fateful night and the horror I faced. It was like a giant flashback for me of that night. It took everything I had not to burst into tears and give a decent but somewhat generic answer. That one definitely caught me off guard.

  • Britt K

    Thank you for sharing! I remember doing a lot of research into the stages of grief when my father passed away. Understanding what I was experiencing really helped me to work through it all.

  • Nina Nichols

    One thing I realized about grief, the hole will always inside you. Losing someone we love, whether through death or circumstances would always leave that permanent scar, a longing and sometimes in indescribable feeling.

  • Alison

    Thank you for this post. I lost my Dad last year after a traumatic time of him being in hospital for 4 months. I recognise the stages. I think I’m bouncing around between guilt, depression and acceptance currently. The punches in the stomach and face (accurate description) are becoming less frequent as time goes on. Sorry to everyone who has lost someone x

  • Joanna K.

    I find this to be an honest account of the experience of grief. How true – Even when in pain, we worry about how others will view us and get stuck in guilt. Time to focus on our own needs.

  • Carly

    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. It must have been hard at such a young age. This post is great though and I think it will help a lot of people with the grieving process.

  • Swagata Sen

    Such a great write up! Been through all the phases several times in my life, know how exactly does it feel once you are able to accept the pain and the loss. But reaching to the last phase is so difficult at times, more we are in denial and in anger longer it takes for us to have the peace restored in our lives..but some times we just don’t want to accept it, want to hold back every single thing associated with the loss. For me personally, detaching myself with the whole issue helps to restore peace and acceptance. Great tips. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • Angie

    I’m only just learning how necessary grief is. I think sometime we as a society need to remember that we have emotions for a reason and allow ourselves to feel!

  • Madi Dearson

    This post is so on point for my family right now. Sadly we just marked one whole month since we lost my father in law, and I watch my husband as he goes through these stages. It is such a complicated painful process. Thank you for sharing this.

    • The Prepping Wife

      I am so sorry to hear about your father in law, Madi! Big big hugs to you and your family. Grief is definitely a very complicated and painful process. That is exactly why I wrote this, in the hopes more people could understand their own process and go through it just a little better. Thank you so much for reading it.

  • Nyxie

    I happened to click onto this because not only do I enjoy your content but because this is something that is very close to home for me at the moment. I have never lost anyone before other than a family pet 3 years ago. That was hard enough, but now I am losing two of my favourite people in the world to terminal cancer.

    My grandfather was diagnosed 3 weeks ago and is dying as I type, while my grandmother (on my father’s side) was diagnosed in December and currently in hospital. She doesn’t have long either.

    I am so sorry about your father in law, and I am sorry for getting carried away with this comment. I just want you to know that reading this has helped me prepare for what I am experiencing now, and what I will go through in the aftermath.

    Thank you for sharing this with us. You are so, so brave for bearing your soul.

    I am sending all my love to you and your family.

    – Nyxie

  • Lyosha

    it is a well-known list but each person lives through this and it (sadly) always feels different, even if you are passing exactly the same step all the time

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