If you’ve ever experienced loss, you know how confusing, difficult, and individual the experience can be. In 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross noticed similarities in people’s experiences of loss and wrote On Death and Dying to explore the series of emotions experienced in grieving. Despite covering the five stages of grief, Kübler-Ross added two additional steps as an extension of the grief cycle for a more in-depth analysis.
As a licensed embalmer and funeral director, Henry Vinson is no stranger to grief and explains that the seven stages of grief can help individuals identify how they’re feeling, even if it they don’t happen in this particular order. He describes the seven stages of grief and what you can expect.
Grief is an emotional response to loss. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, a job, or a relationship, we all experience loss in one way or another. The first stage of grief is shock and disbelief. It is natural to feel shocked at the hearing of a loved ones passing, a divorce, or job loss. In many ways, shock and disbelief provides a person with emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This feeling lasts for different periods of time for different people.
The second stage is denial, which is pretending that the loss or change isn’t happening. Henry Vinson explains that denying the loss gives you time to more gradually absorb the news and begin to process the change. For many, this is a common defense mechanism that will help you numb the intensity of the situation.
The third stage of grief is anger, which can be considered a coping mechanism. For many, thoughts of ‘why is this happening to me’ will surface, and it is also normal to feel anger towards yourself for not being able to change the situation or anger at the person causing it. Anger is a way to hide many of the emotions and pain that you carry and while your rational brain knows the object of your anger isn’t to blame, your feelings in that moment are too intense to feel that.
The fourth stage of grief is bargaining. When you are in the middle of grief, you may feel vulnerable and helpless. In these moments of intense emotions, it is not uncommon to look for ways to gain control or feel like you can affect the outcome of an event. At this time, you might be making “If only” statements: “If only I called them the night before”, “If only I had worked more weekends”, or “If only I had gone to the doctor sooner”. This is normal and is another way of postponing the sadness, confusion, and hurt of losing someone.
The fifth stage of grief is the one where you have to face the pain of loss directly: depression. Henry Vinson explains that in the early stages of grief, you might feel like you are running away from accepting the loss, but depression involves working through those complicated emotions. Many people choose to isolate themselves during this time to cope with the loss. Like the other stages of grief, depression can leave you feeling foggy, heavy, and confused, and it can feel overwhelming. Sometimes people get stuck in this stage and if that is you, you might consider working with a mental health expert to work through it.
The sixth stage of grief is reconstruction and working through the loss. As time goes on and you are able to be more functional in your daily life, you may start to negotiate how to live a normal life again. You may be able to get back into a routine, do the things you once loved, and even experience new things. Henry Vinson explains that for some people, this can take up to six months and for some even a few years depending on the extent of the loss.
Henry Vinson Explains Acceptance
Lastly, there is acceptance. This is the final stage that almost always happens at the end of a grief cycle, where you are able to accept and cope with your loss. This doesn’t mean that you have ‘gotten over’ the loss, but it comes with an ability to speak about it, think about it, and have it on your mind without incredible pain or emotion.
Henry Vinson notes that there is no right way to grieve and however you choose to deal with it is the right way. If you are supporting someone going through grief, always be sure to acknowledge it and ask how you can support them.