It goes without saying that grief is an extremely difficult process filled with ebbs and flows. Some days may be filled with terrible sadness or anger, while others may be calmer and more accepting. Regardless of what you’re feeling each day, grieving is hard and healing can take time.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist theorized in her book “On Death and Dying” that grief could be divided into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial is a state of shock, it’s our brain’s way of putting up a wall and only letting in as much as we can handle. But eventually, these walls slowly crumble, and all the feelings you were denying begin to enter.
Anger is an indication of the intensity of your love for both the person you lost and the people that remain. After a loss, some bargain with the universe to bring that person back. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realize this has all been a bad dream?” We try to negotiate our way out of the pain. When we can’t, we feel the depression of experiencing such a great loss. Eventually, we accept that our loved one is truly gone, and we need to adjust to a new reality without them.
Reading the above makes it seem that grief is a linear progression, that you go through the stages chronologically with each stage having an estimated length. It’s easy to forget that the stages are responses to feelings that come and go. Our feelings don’t have a set timetable or a prescribed order. We may feel one, then another, and back again to the first one.
We may also only feel some of the stages and not others, or some more prominently than the rest. Moreover, the five stages of grief may be the most widely known, but there are other theories of how we process grief, such as ones with seven stages and ones with just two. These stages can help you navigate grief’s terrain, but there may be other emotions you explore.
All this to say, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grief nor is there a set timetable or structure you need to compare yourself to. One of the best ways to think about the grief process is an analogy we recently heard. Imagine your life is a jar, and the grief you feel is a ball inside of the jar. You probably think your grief ball shrinks over time, but in actuality, your jar gets bigger because you learn to grow around your grief. You learn to carry it and find joy in other things, whether that be through your family, friends, or sharing with people who are also experiencing it.