The Normal Life Process of Grieving

Grief is a multi-faceted response to loss. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has a physical, cognitive, behavioural, social and philosophical dimensions. Common to human experience is the death of a loved one, be they friend, family, or other. While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement often refers to the state of loss, and grief to the reaction to loss. Losses can range from loss of employment, pets, status, a sense of safety, order, possessions, to the loss of the people nearest to us. Our response to loss is varied and researchers have moved away from conventional views of grief (that is, that people move through an orderly and predictable series of responses to loss) to one that considers the wide variety of responses that are influenced by personality, family, culture, and spiritual and religious beliefs and practices.

Bereavement, while a normal part of life for us all, carries high risk factors when no support is available. Severe reactions to loss may carry over into familial relations and cause trauma for children and spouses: there is an increased risk of marital breakup following the death of a child, for example. Many forms of what we term 'mental illness' have loss as their root and aetiology, but covered by many years and circumstances this often goes unnoticed. Issues of personal faith and beliefs also come under severe attack as persons reassess personal definitions in the face of great pain. Probably the best resource to avoid problems are early intervention and caring support, and understanding of the experience. Often non-professionals are just as or more effective in this role than professionals.

A Normal Life Process

At some point in our lives, each of us faces the loss of someone or something dear to us. The grief that follows such a loss can seem unbearable, but grief is actually a healing process. Grief is the emotional suffering we feel after a loss of some kind. The death of a loved one, loss of a limb, even intense disappointment can cause grief. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has named five stages of grief people go through following a serious loss. Sometimes people get stuck in one of the first four stages. Their lives can be painful until they move to the fifth stage - acceptance.

Five Stages Of Grief

  1. Denial and Isolation.
    At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer.
  2. Anger.
    The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if she's dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.
  3. Bargaining.
    Now the grieving person may make bargains with God, asking, "If I do this, will you take away the loss?"
  4. Depression.
    The person feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath.
  5. Acceptance.
    This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of the loss.


To explain it further:

What is grief?
When grieving due to a loss or bereavement there are considered to be 5 stages

In this document I am simply outlining what my experience of grieving for a loved one has meant to me. Grieving is a very personal experience for everyone. No one human can or should tell you how to grieve. That is not the intent here. I hope this will help you identify what you are feeling. Also it is to let you know you are not alone with how you are feeling. I found it very helpful to have caring people around me to help me. At some time in life we all feel loss and must find a way to cope with it.

In the denial stage we refuse to believe what has happened. We try in our mind to tell ourselves that life is as it was before our loss. We can even make believe to an extent by re enacting rituals that we used to go through with our loved one. Making an extra cup of tea for our loved one who is no longer there, rushing back to tell someone that you have met an old friend. Flashing back to times and conversations in the past as though they we here with us now. They can all be part of this stage

We get angry. The anger can manifest itself in many ways. We can blame others for our loss. We can become easily agitated having emotional outbursts. We can even become angry with ourselves. Care must be taken here not to turn this anger inwards. Release of this anger is a far better way to cope with grief in my experience.

Bargaining can be with ourselves or if you are religious with your god. Often we will offer something to try to take away the reality of what has happened. We may try to make a deal, to have our loved one back as they were before the tragic event occured. It is only human to want thing as they were before.

Depression is a very likely outcome for all people that grieve for a loss. This is what I would consider the most difficult stage of the five to deal with. There can be a the feeling listlessness and tiredness. You may be bursting helplessly into tears. Feeling like there is no purpose to life any more. Feeling guilty, like everything is your own fault. You may find you feel like you are being punished. Pleasure and joy can be difficult to achieve even from things and activities which you have always gained delight. There can even be thoughts of suicide. There are many different ways in which this stage of grief can manifest itself. If you at any time in this stage feel like doing yourself any harm please do seek professional counseling. Self preservation is a must.

The final stage of grief. It is when you realize that life has to go on. You can here accept your loss. You should now be able to regain your energy and goals for the future. It may take some time to get here but you will.

Grief And Stress

During grief, it is common to have many conflicting feelings. Sorrow, anger, loneliness, sadness, shame, anxiety, and guilt often accompany serious losses. Having so many strong feelings can be very stressful.

Yet denying the feelings, and failing to work through the five stages of grief, is harder on the body and mind than going through them. When people suggest "looking on the bright side," or other ways of cutting off difficult feelings, the grieving person may feel pressured to hide or deny these emotions. Then it will take longer for healing to take place.

Recovering From Grief

Grieving and its stresses pass more quickly, with good self-care habits. It helps to have a close circle of family or friends. It also helps to eat a balanced diet, drink enough non-alcoholic fluids, get exercise and rest.

Most people are unprepared for grief, since so often, tragedy strikes suddenly, without warning. If good self-care habits are always practiced, it helps the person to deal with the pain and shock of loss until acceptance is reached.

Death of a spouse

The most common loss in our society of a loved one is that of the death of a spouse: it is an expected change, particularly as we age. A spouse, though, often becomes part of the other in a unique way: many widows and widowers describe losing 'half' of themselves, and after a long marriage, at older ages, the elderly may find it a very difficult assimilation to begin anew. Further, most couples have a division of 'tasks' or 'labor', e.g. the husband mows the yard, the wife pays the bills, etc. which in addition to dealing with great grief and life changes means added responsibilities for the bereaved. Social isolation may also become eminent as many groups composed of couples find it difficult adjust to the new identity of the bereaved. When queried about what in life is most troubling, most rate death of a spouse first, although the death of a child presents more risk factors. Somewhere there must be an evolutionary function to grief, given that eventually everyone loses everyone at some point throughout history.

Other losses

Many other losses predispose persons to these same experiences, although often not as severely. Loss reactions may occur after the loss of a romantic relationship (i.e. divorce or break up), a vocation, a pet (animal loss), a home, children leaving home (empty nest), a friend, a favored appointment or desire, etc. While the reaction may not be as intense, experiences of loss may still show in these forms of bereavement.

In one way or another, we are all affected by death. Losses are inevitable and are ever present in all lives. Death is universal. Grief is universal. We all must cope with bereavement at some stage in our lives. Even though death can be separated into two categories, long-term illness and sudden death, all death is sudden. The finality of death brings to those left behind a tremendous amount of emotional pain. Grief is not something abnormal; rather, it is a normal and inevitable step in our journey through life. Two simple definitions of grief are 1) the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behavior. 2) a normal, natural and painful emotional reaction to loss. We can grieve not only for the passing of a human life, but also for the death of a relationship (divorce) or we can suffer the same emotional reactions over the loss of a beloved pet. Grieving is difficult because it involved many intense feelings – love, sadness, fear, anger, relief, compassion, hate, or happiness to name a few. Not everyone experiences all of these feelings but many in the grieving process experience several of them at the same time. The feelings are intense, disorganizing and can be long lasting. Grieving often feels has been described as drowning in a sea of painful emotions.

There are certain stages of grief. 1) Shock – Immediately following the death of a loved one it is difficult to accept the loss. A feeling of unreality occurs. During those first days and through any religious rituals or memorials there is a feeling of being-out-of-touch. 2) Emotional Release – the awareness of just how dreadful the loss is accompanied by intense pangs of grief. In this stage a grieving individuals sleeps badly and weeps uncontrollably 3) Panic - For some time a grieving person can feel in the grip of mental instability. They can find themselves wandering around aimlessly, forgetting things, and not being able to finish what they started. Physical symptoms also can appear -- tightness in the throat, heaviness in the chest, an empty feeling in the stomach, tiredness and fatigue, headaches, migraine headaches, gastric and bowel upsets. 4) Guilt – At this stage an individual can begin to feel guilty about failures to do enough for the deceased, guilt over what happened or what didn’t happen. 5) Hostility – Some individuals feel anger at what “caused” the loss of the loved one. 6) Inability to Resume Business-as-Usual Activities - the ability to concentrate on day-to-day activities may be severely limited. It is important to know and recognize that this is a normal phenomenon. A grieving person’s entire being – emotional, physical and spiritual, is focused on the loss that just occurred. Grief is a 100% experience. No one does it at 50%. 7) Reconciliation of Grief – balance in life returns little by little, much like healing from a severe physical wound. There are no set timeframes for healing. Each individual is different. 8) Hope - the sharp, ever present pain of grief will lessen and hope for a continued, yet different life emerges. Plans are made for the future and the individual is able to move forward in life with good feelings knowing they will always remember and have memories of the loved one.


Grieving is difficult work. The following are some suggestion to help in navigating the journey through grief.

-Take time. Don’t let others rush you into “getting over” your feelings.

-Don’t make major decisions. The time of grief is a time of instability.

-Avoid the temptation to use alcohol or drugs to numb the painful feelings.

-Cry. Tears are the healthiest expression of grief. Don’t try to hold back crying for the sake of others.

-Know that there will be good days and bad days. Pangs of intense grief can surface during holidays, significant events such as birthdays or anniversaries.

-Remember the loved one often and as much as you need to. Look at photographs, read old letters and retell your memories to friends and other members of the family.

-Seek people who will understand your need to talk about what happened. Seek out people who will really listen to your remembrances.

-Allow yourself time to heal. Pay attention to your health. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Eat a healthy diet. Get outside in the sunshine for exercise or a mild walk.

-Ask for what you need from others. Accept what help they offer. Now is not the time to try to do everything by yourself.

-Seek out grief counseling if you feel you cannot cope alone. Grief counseling is available through community resources, churches and licensed therapists. Join a grief support group. Local community papers will usually have listings. Use the Internet and join an electronic bulletin board dedicated to supporting individuals who have lost loved ones.

-Remember your grief is individual to you. Not everyone’s grief is identical to yours. You will share some similarities with others, but grieving is a very personal and very individual process.

Death like any great wound leaves a scar. It may heal and the pain may ease but the mark is always there. But the memories of the loved one are always there also. The most important thing to remember is -- there is no right way or wrong way to grieve. People grieve in their own time and in their own way. The second most important thing to remember is – everything you feel during bereavement is normal. The third most important thing to remember is – if you feel you cannot cope with your loss alone, you don’t have to. Seek help. Grief is the pain of not having the person who is gone. Through bereavement we learn to live without that person.

Any Change Of Circumstance can cause us to go through these processes.

We don't have to go through the stages in sequence. We can skip a stage or go through two or three simultaneously.

We all go though grief, in one form or another.  May we all grow old together.