It has been widely recognized that people experiencing, or who have experienced, a significant loss go through several stages of grief. These affect both people who learn of their own impending death or decline and those who grieve for them, and people who experience a sudden loss.
Commonly referred to as the 5 phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, the stages are not necessarily reached in that order, and are often revisited several times. A person may achieve acceptance, only to back up and experience one or more of the other stages again.
Grief is not tidy. Denial: it is common for someone, upon hearing unwelcome news, such as the diagnosis of a terminal illness or the death of a loved one, to enter this phase. It is a way of protecting themselves from the shock, to keep the emotional pain at a distance. Unless the person’s denial is causing problems, possibly confusing or distressing children, it is best to leave them alone. When they’re ready, they’ll emerge from this stance and move on to another phase.
Anger: coming to understand the reality of a bad situation may stir up an emotional turmoil that manifests itself as anger. It is a necessary part of the process and relieves some of the emotional pressure. If possible, it should be channeled so as not to damage family relationships or upset children.
Bargaining: this phase may represent an effort to keep an inevitable outcome or a reality at bay. It is a form of emotional negotiation, designed to achieve some sense of control. It may be connected with feelings of guilt and the desire to right a perceived wrong, or to effect an internal reconciliation.
Depression: the realization that an outcome is not going to alter may bring depression. It may appear in the form of diminished resolve, or outright despair, but it indicates that the reality of the situation has set in. It can include both practical and emotional issues. Acceptance: because this phase brings a degree of peace, many are pleased to see a loved one reach it. In the case of a person who is dying, however, it may be accompanied by emotional withdrawal. This can be difficult for family and friends for it brings the impending loss closer and evidences the beginning of their loved one’s departure.
For someone who is grieving a loss, acceptance is the phase that indicates the emotional rebalancing needed to move forward with life. It may, however, be achieved and then rejected several times before it becomes sufficiently fixed to allow for recovery. Grief is a powerful, defining emotion that never really leaves those it touches. But it should, in time, become manageable.