The Stages of Grief

"Grief is like a stranger who has come to stay."
Carol Staudacher, author of Beyond Grief

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote of the five stages that a dying person goes through in her book, On Death and Dying. Psychologists since then have written about stages of grief that describe people's responses to loss of all kinds. In her later years Elisabeth Kubler-Ross also expanded her model to include grief as well as death.

Kubler-Ross formulated her staging model based on work with dying patients.  She also spoke of similar reactions in the families of patients.

These five stages of grief are not a rigid sequence that everyone goes through in exactly the same order,  but they can be a useful guide to make sense of your experience of grief and loss.

Grief is a process. You can avoid your grief, but only by giving up your humanness, and cutting love out of your life. The way out of the pain of grief is in, journeying into grief's core. And in that core is "the Pearl of Great Price."

People often come to our retreats for help in working through their experience of grief and to find ways to deal with grief. They may be stuck in one of these stages and unable to move on. They may be caught in fear or shock. The deep healing that takes place at our retreats has helped hundreds of people move into acceptance, peace and renewal.

Here is a summary of Kubler-Ross's five stages:

1. Denial
This first stage is a temporary defense against the pain of grief. We deny it and tell ourselves "this can't be happening to me." We go numb in disbelief. We tell ourselves, "If I don't experience it, it's not happening." We may withdraw from others that remind us of our pain. We may go back to our routines, temporarily distracting ourselves with work and life activities. "I feel fine" can be part of this usually short-lived stage.

2. Anger
The second of the stages of grief is anger. The pain inside projects outward to others, to the world, to the person who left or even to ourselves. We don't know why we are angry. We look for someone to blame, and in blaming we may feel better. Anger can be therapeutic and gives us some temporary relief as it moves our energy from powerlessness and victimization back into power. We may shout and scream, and that feels good.

But anger is difficult to be around, and can shred relationships. It can be challenging to care for someone in this phase of grief. "It's not fair!" is part of this stage. We may blame God. "Why me?" can be here as well.

We may have other feelings come up, including fear, anxiety, guilt and blame. We may have unexplained physical symptoms arise.

See this page for more on working with anger.

3. Bargaining
At this stage we make deals. "Just let me (or him/her) live until_____. " "I'll do anything for a few more years…pay any amount. " People make drastic lifestyle changes in an appeal to a higher power. This is a stage of pleading for more time. "I'll do this and that…I'll be good if you only…"

4. Depression
Here acceptance begins, as the certainty of death sinks in. This stage can be a long period of reflection, of turning inward and slowly digesting grief. It can be a time to be alone, and cry. At times we may feel like we are losing our minds.

For more on the relationship of anger and depression go to Anger and Depression.

5. Acceptance
Here a transformation takes place – an acceptance of the loss, and a sense of "It's going to be okay." There is a coming to terms with death and a renewed interest in life. You will spend the rest of your life living with this loss, but it's going to be all right. You will never be the same, but you can go on living.

Getting Help With Grief And Loss

We offer two retreats for people who have experienced deep loss and find themselves caught up in the stages of grief. The first one is offered a few times a year in western Massachusetts. You can find out more at Grief and Loss and other Difficult Emotions Retreat.

The second is called a Shalom Retreat or Breaking through the Old Story and is offered in upstate New York. For more information go to Shalom Retreats. I lead these retreats twice each year.


Jon Terrell, MA, offers psychotherapy for individuals and couples at his office in Northampton, Massachusetts and in downtown Manhattan. He does not take insurance, but has a sliding scale fee. He helps clients find ways to deal with grief. He also works long distance using Skype or the phone.

For more information or if you have a question, contact him using the form below. He helps people along the stages of grief.

Go from Stages of Grief to Healing Emotions

Go to Grief Page

Go to Grief and Loss Workshop

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