10 minute read

What are the Stages of Grief - Dealing with Grief and Loss

The stages of grief can be different for everyone, but we’ve got some tips on how to cope after the death of a loved one.

Grief is a tricky thing. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with it, and there’s no way to anticipate how it’ll grip us when we’re faced with it. But while we don’t have much control over our reaction, what we can do is prepare as much as possible for the things in life we can control. 

It’s not uncommon for losing a loved one to spark something in us. The reminder of the fragility of life can be just what we need to find the motivation to do something hard, but necessary. We all have a natural instinct to protect those we love, and creating an Estate Plan is something many people find helps them move on as they are coping with grief.

If you’re going through the grieving process, it may also help you to understand a little more about it. Keep reading to learn: 

What are the Stages of Grief? 

While it’s true that we all deal with grief differently, there is one similarity. Most of us tend to experience some or all of the five stages of grief. Not everyone will go through all the stages, and they won’t necessarily go through them in the same order. But it’s normal to feel any of the following.

  1. Denial - It’s very common to feel a strong sense of denial or an inability to believe or accept reality after a loss. This could be upon learning about a terminal illness diagnosis,  or any other type of loss, including a death. Isolation often comes along with denial as it’s typical to avoid socialization or to have an overwhelming sense of wanting to be alone.

  2. Anger - Being angry at the world or universe is a completely normal part of grief. Things can feel unfair, and we often question why. It may seem odd, but it’s probably more common than you’d think that our anger ends up being directed toward the one person we associate our loss and grief with. This could be somebody who has recently passed away, or it could be a doctor or therapist who made a diagnosis, or it could even be somebody who just doesn’t understand what we’re going through. There is a long list of the ways anger can manifest as we face our grief.

  3. Bargaining - Again, it’s quite normal to feel a sense of what if or if only. This stems from a need or desire to try and change the outcome of a situation. It often results in tremendous guilt as we wonder what we could have done differently or obsess over the idea that we could have somehow changed an outcome.

  4. Depression - Many of us feel depressed when we’re mourning and grieving. This can be expressed in a couple different ways. Depression can come from the practicality of the situation - insane medical bills, end of life expenses, funeral or burial costs, our own inability to take care of the daily things we need to (like our children or work). But there’s more to depression than just these practical issues. We can also naturally go through some form of depression as we prepare mentally to say goodbye to whatever we have lost. 

  5. Acceptance - Acceptance usually comes toward the end, and not everybody makes it to this place. It’s very easy to hold on to resentments, sadness, depression, anger and any other emotion we feel after a devastating loss. But if we’re lucky, we’ll reach the phase of acceptance - note this doesn’t mean that we’re welcoming our grief, but it does usually mean we’ve found a place where it’s not overwhelmingly gripping us to the point we are incapable of dealing with our daily life. Often the stage of acceptance has a feeling of calm or peace and sometimes even a sense of withdrawal.

5 Most Common Types of Grief after Loss of a Loved One 

Because grief comes in so many different shapes and sizes, and since it can show up differently person to person, there’s no inclusive list of the types of grief every person will experience. That said, there are some more common types, which can include: 

  • Anticipatory grief

  • Normal grief 

  • Delayed grief 

  • Complicated/Traumatic grief 

  • Absent grief 

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a sense of grief we experience when we know a loss is coming. It can be due to any sort of expected loss - like an impending divorce, a child leaving for college or a medical diagnosis, but often it’s knowing that we’ll soon be faced with the death of a loved one.

Normal grief 

Again, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, but there are some more “normal” (if you can call it that) characteristics of grief. These could include crying, change in sleep habits or appetite, a lack of energy, withdrawal from social relationships and events, lethargy or apathy, difficulty in focusing, questioning our faith and more.

Delayed grief 

Delayed grief is when we push our grief away and don’t actually deal with any of our pain, sadness or other emotions that are normal after a loss. The difficult part about delayed grief is it usually resurfaces at some point and we’re forced to then deal with the loss. Sometimes this can be years later.  

Complicated/Traumatic grief 

Complicated grief can also be called: 

  • Traumatic grief 

  • Abnormal grief 

  • Exaggerated grief 

  • Chronic grief 

  • or other names

This type of grief usually occurs when what started out as a “normal” reaction fails to fade over time. It actually can even begin to impede daily life. Where you once were angry, you may find yourself enraged. Where you once just lacked focus or had a difficult time paying attention to a task at hand, you may now obsess over the death of your loved one. Where you once just felt sad or empty, you may begin to feel worse, with low self-esteem or bitterness as you long for a connection with your loved one. The worst manifestation of complicated or traumatic grief could be thoughts of self-harm, addiction, self-destructive behavior or substance abuse. Any time grief gets to this point, you must seek help. 

Absent grief 

Absent grief is a type of complicated grief, where after experiencing a loss like the death of a loved one, you’re unable to show any normal signs of grief. You may not be able to cry or feel angry. Most often, absent grief is associated with an extreme form of the denial stage, where you’re in a place that allows you to completely avoid the realities of your loss.

Helpful Tips for How to Manage Grief 

There are many symptoms of grief we’ve touched on here, ranging from sadness to guilt to fear to shock. Regardless of what you or a loved one is feeling, remember that the first step towards any type of healing is recognizing what you’re going through. Only then will you be able to manage, and hopefully heal, from your grief.

There are many steps you can take to work through grief, and ultimately you’ll need to find the way that works best for you. You can try any of the following methods for self care:

  • Make sure you get enough sleep and try to keep a sleep pattern that’s consistent. This can heal your Circadian Rhythm, which can allow you to better-deal with your emotions.

  • Try to eat healthy and regularly.

  • Talk about what you’re feeling - holding everything in can result in further feelings of isolation and anxiety.

  • Acknowledge your emotions and honor them. If there’s one thing you should know, it’s that there’s no right or wrong way to process grief.

  • Seek help if you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. The stigma attached to mental health is more detrimental than we often realize. Getting help when you need it is a sign of strength.

One powerful tool to help you manage grief and the death of a loved one is Lantern. Check out their helpful guides, checklists, and resources to ease your stress and help you begin the healing process.

Should I Consider Grief Counseling? 

Grief counseling is simply the act of finding a therapist, life coach or counselor who’s skilled in the area of helping us process our grief. It may be beneficial to seek out counseling if you find your grief is taking over your daily life or interfering with your responsibilities and relationships with others. 

You can find a grief counselor through your primary doctor, from a referral of a friend, at a local grief support group or even through an Internet search. You may not even necessarily need to seek out a certified professional counselor - sometimes it can help to just open up to a friend or loved one we trust.

Are you or a loved one experiencing extreme grief or depression that’s causing you thoughts of self harm or suicide? Help is out there. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800–273–8255. Please, reach out if you need help.  

Grief can present itself in so many different ways. We know that losing a loved one can be one of the most painful things in life to deal with, which is why we’ve made it our mission to help as many people as possible create an Estate Plan so that their family and loved ones are better protected against the unexpected.

Don’t wait another day to take action. Learn how Trust & Will can help you and give you more peace of mind. 

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