The Stages of Grief. Accepting the unacceptable…

People may go through their own stages of grief but broadly speaking experts have classified this bereavement process as the 5 stages of grief. This grief process is bespoke and this article is simply indicative. Please take the help of an expert in case you need further clarification. 

Pain, sufferings and grief are brutal truths of life. Nobody can claim to have escaped from their pernicious claws, and those who do, they are, in reality, putting up a façade of happiness to veil the intense displeasure and grief they have undergone. 

Grief is a brutal truth of life. Nobody can escape from its pernicious claws

Grief is a process, which helps tide over the various kinds of losses we encounter in our lives

Indubitably, grief is also an indispensable emotion, which helps us tide over the various kinds of losses we may have encountered in our lives. We may grieve the death of a parent or dear one, separation from spouse, a personal or professional loss- the reason can be anything that may affect our mind or soul to the extent of making us feel overwhelmed. 

“Man is born to live, to suffer and to die and what befalls him is a tragic lot. There is no denying this in the final end. But we must deny it all along the way.”

Thomas Wolfe

The 5 Stages of Grief

Delving deep into the various stages of grief, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross came up with her path-breaking theory of overcoming the 5 stages of grief, namely, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance- as mentioned in her book ‘On Death and Dying. Her Co-author David Kessler went further to add a sixth stage, that of finding meaning beyond grief in his book ‘On Grief and Grieving’.

So what do these stages of grief mean ? And do each one of us go through all of these stages?

According to Kubler-Ross, the stages are non-linear, and may not occur in sequence. People may go through these emotions at different times and even experience different stages for different kinds of bereavement. Let’s take a look at what these stages are…


1/5. Denial
Denial in Grief. “This can’t happen, she is there somewhere round the corner. she will come back soon.” 

Denial is a feeling of numbness, of inability to accept the reality of loss, the sudden shift in life circumstances

The feeling of numbness, of unable to accepting the fact of loss, is what comprises the stage of Denial. The sudden shift in circumstances, the new unexpected reality takes time to seep in, as we grapple through memories of the recent past to understand how this all happened. The person whom you may have just met a week back, or may have talked to the day before, has gone forever. 

This can’t happen, she is there somewhere round the corner and she will come soon.” 

The individual who had meant your world, has been estranged. 

“He is just angry with me, he will come back. We will be together, again”

Death or divorce, the phase of denial gives you the time to absorb the brutal reality as you go through the pretentious stage of feeling that nothing of that sort has happened. The intense shock at knowing the truth, makes you start living in a world of false hopes, which in turn, helps you cope with and survive the moment of grief.


2/5. Anger
Anger IN Grief. “How could she do this to me?”  “I am just left alone to fight with life’s unfair deals.” 

Anger is the stage where intense emotions of shock and numbness, that have been veiled so far, Are Manifested

 “How could he do this to me?” 

“Why me, of all people?”

“It’s all because of them that I am in so much pain.”

“I am just left alone to fight with life’s unfair deals.”

Once you are over with the coping mechanism of denial, anger starts brewing inside you. 

This is the stage when you shift from the ‘preferable reality’ stage to ‘actual reality’ phase. This is the stage where your intense emotions that had been veiled so far, are masked behind the expressions of anger. 

Feelings of cynicism, resentment, animosity grows inside you and it is these emotions which, at this point in time, are necessary to give vent to your innermost grief. 

While, most of the times, we are advised to have control over our anger, but during moments of loss, such expressions of anger are necessary to have its outburst rather than being suppressed in order to overcome the feelings of grief.  Whether you direct the anger at someone close or some object at hand, the venting out will only help your emotions to dissipate. 


3/5. Bargaining
Bargaining IN Grief. “If only I would not have fought with her the other night, things would have been different.” 

Bargaining is the feelings of remorse of things you could have, may have done or said to the person in the past

As the sense of desperation paces up, you are left to strike a deal with your Almighty.

Please God, if you save him, I promise never to fight again.”

If I get the job this time, I assure I will work to the best of my abilities.”

“If I am cured this time, I promise I will lead a healthier lifestyle.”

Like the stage of Denial, this stage is also somewhat dwelling in a ‘preferable’ reality, wherein, we are compelled to be aware of our helplessness as humans and begin looking up to a higher form as a way of consolation. 

This process of bargaining is often accompanied by a sense of guilt, as you may be filled with feelings of remorse remembering things you may have done or said to cause pain to the person in the past. 

You feel like you could go back and undo the past- “What if I could have gone to his room 5 minutes back, maybe I could save him“ , “If only I would not have fought with her the other night, things would have been different.”

In a way, the bargaining with the higher power helps you postpone the pain for some more time as you wait for the deal to come true.


4/5. Depression
Depression IN Grief. “Life has no meaning and there is no point of my living this dreadful life.”

Depression is the organic phase of contemplation, where you grudgingly accept the reason of pain

Unlike the above stages, depression constitutes a relatively quieter phase. When depression sets in, you gradually come to terms with the fact that the person is no more or you have actually been detected with an illness that may be incurable. 

This reality often makes you shrink into a cocoon, away from the crowd as you immerse yourself in moments of musing and contemplation, to let the reality permeate. 

Though this is a calmer phase, depression can be difficult too as you struggle to fight with the truth. 

There may be times of extreme bafflement and feelings of being trapped in a vicious cycle from where you cannot see any means of escape. 

The horizon of positivity seems a distant dream. You may even feel like “Life has no meaning and there’s no point of my living this dreadful life.” 

When such thoughts seem to go to the extent of taking control over you, it tends to become suicidal. It often helps to talk to someone you can confide in or seek the help of a professional in case of extreme tendencies. 


5/5. Acceptance
Acceptance IN Grief. “I may never be able to have the same life, but then I have to learn to live life, without her.”

Acceptance means realising that life cannot be like what it was before. Acceptance propels you to move forward

The last stage of Acceptance does not mean everything becomes hunky dory and you accept the fact that your loved one is no more and that is fine. 

Acceptance just means, you have come to terms with the fact and that life cannot be like what it was before may be. This is the stage when you may start feeling, “I may never be able to have the same life without my partner around, but then I have to learn to live with it.” Or “ I know my days are numbered, but there’s nothing anybody can do, hence let me live the last few days in the best way possible.” 


The 6th Stage of Grief… Life Reconstruction
Life Reconstruction IN Grief. “Let me go and reconnect with friends and also makes some new acquaintances. Time for me to move on.”

Life Reconstruction starts when we start moving on with life, as an individual, amidst the changed reality

Coming back to David Kessler and his book ‘On Grief and Grieving’, the sixth stage of grief process is organic reconstruction state wherein, we start moving on with life, often re-uniting with friends or making new bonds of friendship and evolving as an individual amidst this new-found reality.


Grief is not an easy to process to navigate through. Everyone has their own individualised way of handling situations. My advise to people is to just be there as a sounding board for the griever, when the griever is unburdening. The process takes the griever one step closer to the final closure. Please leave advising to the professionals, if the need arises…


Related Article…

[1] How to deal with Regret

Aashish Nanda

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