Losing someone you love can be devastating. The finality of loss can feel overwhelming, confusing, and paralyzing. Even though you may be comforted that your loved one is in a better place and that you will see them again, you may be struggling to learn how to live without them.
You may be wondering how to resume your daily life. It may seem impossible right now as the pain is too deep and too raw. You might think you will never feel any semblance of normal again. This is where the grieving process begins.
The Stages of the Grieving Process
The five stages of the grieving process are:
Processing grief is different for everyone and your journey through these stages will vary greatly. Your experience could be based on factors such as your age, what you have dealt with in the past, your beliefs, and the circumstances of the loss. If you lost someone violently, suddenly, or traumatically, the stress accompanying the loss complicates the grieving process. If the loss was expected you may have started the grieving process at an early time.
God knew that we could not just turn off our emotions when we experience the loss of a loved one. The grieving process is a way for us to slowly adapt to the loss while also protecting our minds from the pain. You may cycle through the first few stages of the process several times before reaching the acceptance stage. Even in acceptance, the loss will still be painful, but you will be able to function and regain your sense of self.
Read through the five stages of the grieving process below to identify the outward behaviors and the emotions you may display during each phase.
When you receive the news of a loved one’s passing or watch it yourself, you may feel shock or numbness. How can this happen? Why did this happen? How do we carry on from here? It seems impossible that the sun can still rise in the morning after you have been dealt a significant blow like this and lost someone you loved deeply.This is a normal reaction and begins the denial stage of the grieving process. In your shock and numbness, you may avoid talking about your loved one or making the necessary arrangements. You may avoid the places you enjoyed together or even avoid going into their bedroom for a time. You might procrastinate doing tasks or find yourself forgetting more things.
Confusion often comes with the denial stage. Everything seems off as you forget everyday tasks or important details. You may engage in mindless behaviors as your mind works to shut down from the pain. You might spend more time scrolling social media, rewatching movies or television show reruns, or eating mindlessly.
On the flip side, you may keep busy all the time, throwing yourself into work, housework, or some other type of physical activity to keep your mind from ruminating on the loss. You may think you are handling the loss well, but you are avoiding the pain to protect your mind and heart.
Anger is the next stage in the grieving process. You may feel anger toward how your loved one died, anger toward your loved one for leaving you, or anger at others as you blame them for the circumstances surrounding the death. Anger can appear as many different behaviors besides rage.
When you are in the anger stage, you may be sarcastic, cynical, or irritable with others. You may not be aware of your tone of voice as you snap at others. You might make passive-aggressive comments. Or, you might lose your temper quickly and start fights, verbally or physically.
This explosive stage happens because we feel out of control. We cannot control death. We cannot make people live in this temporary vessel of a body for eternity. God did not create these current fleshly bodies for eternity. Scripture says that we will be given an eternal body after we have lived this life.
You may still feel the frustration and resentment from your loss, but know that anger is a stage in moving toward acceptance. Be mindful not to allow it to ruin your relationships with the people left behind with you. You are feeling the loss together although it may look different.
Bargaining happens when we begin to think about and process the loss of our loved one. In this stage, we may spend a lot of time thinking about the past and asking ourselves what-if questions. Ultimately these questions do not aid in our healing. As much as we may yearn to relive something we cannot change past circumstances.
You may spend time worrying or predicting a future that may never happen. You may assume the worst about any new situation, allowing pessimism to work its way into your perspective. You might judge yourself and others harshly which could result in feeling guilt and shame and wanting to shift blame.
The bargaining stage deals with the insecurities you feel during the grieving process and attempts to help you overcome fears and anxiety.
The depression stage can last longer than the others and may be more challenging for you to overcome without professional help. This stage is marked by pervasive sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness. Sleep patterns may change, such as sleeping too much or developing insomnia and nightmares. You may have crying spells throughout the day or feel overemotional as you experience waves of loneliness and memories.
Your eating habits may also change as your appetite is affected by stress and depression. You may mindlessly eat or binge eat. On the other hand, you may forget to eat throughout the day and instead turn to alcohol or smoking to occupy the hand-to-mouth movement.
Due to the despair, fatigue may hit, making daily activities difficult. You may stop exercising or putting effort into your appearance as you deal with decreased motivation and energy.
Depression can become severe and include intrusive thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If you are thinking about harming yourself or others, get help immediately.
As we move towards the acceptance stage, reality will come into focus, and we will stop avoiding or fighting against it. This does not mean that the pain will magically go away or that we will never feel some of the same emotions that mark denial, anger, bargaining, or depression from time to time.
Acceptance means that we are present in the moment, embracing where we are now and the people who are with us in the process. At this stage, you can be honest about your feelings and vulnerability. You can implement coping skills to get through the process.
You will find your sense of self and self-confidence again. You will feel as if you have grown and are a little wiser through the process. You may be ready to help others dealing with loss or the same type of grief. You can share your story from a place of courage and compassion.
The grieving process is necessary to get to this place psychologically and emotionally. It is far from easy. You may go through spells where you feel like you are barely holding on or like an imposter with a “fake it until you make it” approach. This is part of the acceptance stage as you accept that this is the new normal.
This new normal will look different, but it is not necessarily bad. This stage will bring about new opportunities, new people, and a new mindset. God knows that we are stronger mentally, emotionally, and often spiritually when we reach acceptance. Our faith grows as we trust God is in control and lean into Him to get our family and us through the grieving process.
If You Feel Stuck
When grief is deep and holds us captive, sometimes we can become stuck in a specific stage like depression or cycle back through all the stages repeatedly. Over time, this complicated grief can interfere with relationships, careers, school, and health.
Reach out to a Christian counselor today to schedule an appointment. We can help you move through the grieving process constructively while honoring the memory of your loved one.
“Feeling Down”, Courtesy of Molnar Balint, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Josue Escoto, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tears”, Courtesy of Luis Galvez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Noah Silliman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License