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Grief is defined as the deep mental and emotional anguish that arises from loss. Grief can be experience on the death of a loved one, the death of a pet, the ending of a relationship or other losses in which there was an emotional attachment. Five stages of grief were identified by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a groundbreaking psychiatrist and pioneer in near-death studies, in her book, On Death and Dying. Dr. Kubler-Ross noticed that the grieving process evolves over time as people try to cope with the loss. Most people experience all five stages of grief, although not necessarily in the same order or for the same length of time. The stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one. The intensity of the emotions in each stage also varies among individuals. However, Dr. Kubler-Ross concluded that the stages are necessary to arrive at the final stage, acceptance of the loss.



The first stage of grief is denial of the loss, the refusal to believe that the loss occurred. This “numbing” of the mind protects it from the pain associated with the loss, and thus helps us to survive the loss. In this stage of shock and denial, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We ask how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. Once we begin to accept the reality of the loss and the denial starts to fade, however, all the feelings we were denying rise to the surface.



Once the numbness of denial ebbs, the loss becomes real and has the effect of striking a raw nerve, triggering the anger stage. While at first grief feels like being lost, with no connection to anything, the anger provides a structure for channeling the emerging emotions. Then you may get angry at a person who didn’t attend the funeral, or maybe someone who isn’t around, maybe a person who acts differently toward you now that your loved one has died. The anger is actually your connection to others and just another indication of the intensity of your love.



After the anger subsides begins the bargaining stage, when we try to think of ways that will reverse the loss. We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements, often accompanied by feelings of guilt. The bargaining includes changes in behavior as bargaining chips. We may even bargain with the pain; we will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt.




Once we realize the bargaining isn’t working, our attention moves solidly into the present and hopelessness sinks in. Grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depression can feel overwhelming and involve crying and withdrawal from other relationships. It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. The loss of a loved one is a depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response.



The final stage of grief is acceptance, after the mind has found ways to think about the loss that allows daily living to continue. Time has passed, and there has been a degree of healing. There is still sadness about the loss, but it no longer overpowers. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We may start to reach out and become involved in the lives of others again. We invest in our friendships and in ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time.
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