Grief is a natural and instinctive response that occurs when we experience a significant loss or change in our lives. Grief is universal, but it is also very personal. When experiencing grief, you may cry, become angry, withdraw, or feel empty. None of these things are unusual or wrong. It’s also important to remember that grief is not very neat or linear, and although the feelings that come with grief are temporary, grief itself doesn’t follow a timeline or schedule.
While grief looks and feels different for everyone, there are some commonalities in the stages of grief and the order of feelings that people experience throughout them. These are called the 5 stages of grief, and they help to identify the common feelings people experience after loss. Let's take a look at some of those stages now.
In this stage, you may struggle to accept the reality of the loss. You may experience shock, disbelief, or a sense of numbness.
Denial serves as a coping mechanism, allowing you to gradually process the overwhelming emotions that accompany grief. As you move out of the denial stage, the emotions you’ve been hiding will begin to rise, and you'll be confronted with all the big, powerful feelings that you've been denying. That is also part of the journey of grief, but it can be hard and painful.
As reality starts to sink in, people often feel a range of emotions, and anger is a common response. Anger may be directed towards another person, other people that are involved in the situation, oneself, or even towards a higher power. While not everyone will experience this stage of grief, others may find they linger here.
It's important to understand that anger is a normal part of the grieving process, and it can help you to express your pain and frustration. As the anger subsides, you may begin to think more rationally about what’s happening and start to feel some of the other emotions you’ve been pushing aside.
This stage involves attempting to negotiate or make deals in an effort to reverse or alter the outcome. It can be a way to postpone the sadness, confusion, or hurt, and is often characterised by a series of "what if" or "if only" statements. Bargaining can be a line of defense against the emotions of grief, or an attempt to regain control and find meaning in the loss, but it is often accompanied by feelings of guilt and regret.
During this stage, you might find yourself pleading for more time or second-guessing your choices and actions.
As the full weight of the loss becomes apparent, you may experience a deep sadness and profound sense of emptiness. As a result, you might find yourself withdrawing from activities you once enjoyed, have difficulty sleeping, lose your appetite, or struggle with concentration.
It's crucial to differentiate between grief-related depression and clinical depression. The former is a normal response to loss, however if the symptoms persist, worsen significantly, or you find it is difficult to cope, you should always seek support from a professional, like a doctor, counsellor or psychologist.
Like the other stages of grief, depression can be difficult and messy. As well as feelings of sadness, loneliness, and emptiness, you may feel overwhelmed, foggy, heavy, and confused.
This final stage doesn't mean that you have "gotten over" the loss or that you are no longer affected by it. Instead, acceptance involves coming to terms with the reality of the loss. It's a gradual process that allows you to adapt to your new reality and find meaning in your changed circumstances.
Acceptance doesn't mean forgetting or letting go completely, but rather finding a way to move forward while still honoring the loss you experienced. You may feel very different in this stage. That’s entirely expected. You’ve had a major change in your life, and that upends the way you feel about many things. Look to acceptance as a way to see that there may be more good days than bad. There may still be bad days — and that’s normal and okay.
It's important to remember that these stages are not a one-size-fits-all model for grief. The grieving process is unique for everyone, and you may experience a variety of emotions and reactions that don't fit neatly into these categories. It's also important to remember that not everyone will go through all of these stages, and some people may experience additional stages or emotions not mentioned here.
Grief is a complex and deeply personal journey, and it's crucial to allow yourself the space, time, empathy, support, understanding and care you need to navigate it in your own way and at your own pace.
If you need help coping with the feelings and changes that come with grief and loss, a mental health professional can help you to explore and identify your feelings and find a sense of assurance. If you need urgent or crisis support, contact one of the below 24/7 support numbers:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Mensline 1300 789 978