3 min read

Are There Really 5 Stages of Grief?

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People often talk about the five “stages” of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—as if they’re the only explanation for what people experience after a loss. There are hundreds of resources online and offline that back this belief, but it’s nearly impossible to summarize grief using a five-step process.  

While you may experience some or all of the outlined stages following the loss of a loved one, there’s no set timeline for passing from one to the next. We each experience loss differently, so there’s no one right way, order or timeline to grieve.

Below, we take a deeper dive into grief as a whole.

Exploring the 5 Stages of Grief

The grieving process is vastly different from one person to the next. During bereavement, we may spend weeks, months or even years working through the various stages. That’s why it’s important to remember that each person reacts and responds to grief differently. The reference to “stages” is simply a framework, not an absolute timeline.

These five stages include: 

  • Denial buffers the immediate shock of a loss, numbing us to our emotions.
  • Anger sets in after the masking effects of denial wear off and reality emerges, causing us to lash out at others.
  • Bargaining begins when we try to reason or negotiate loss with false hope using “what if” statements.
  • Depression occurs when grief enters our lives on a deeper level, making us withdraw.
  • Acceptance follows when our emotions stabilize, allowing us to re-enter reality and come to terms with a loss.

A key to remember as you travel through your grief journey is to not feel like you must go through every stage in precise order. Instead, it’s helpful to look at them as guidelines to the grieving process. And because we do not enter and exit each stage in a linear fashion, grief experts have found there may even be more than five stages.

Could There Be More Than 5 Stages of Grief?

Following a loss, you may experience all kinds of unexpected emotions that aren’t outlined in the five stages, and that’s okay. Grieving is a highly individualized experience.

How you grieve depends on many factors. For example, you may feel relieved when a loved one passes after suffering from a difficult disease. Or, you may feel guilt that you could have, or should have, done something to prevent the loss. Whatever it may be, you need time to heal in your own way.

In fact, grief expert David Kessler wrote a book that introduces a critical sixth stage—meaning. He believes finding meaning through memorialization helps us heal. Through personal and professional experience, he believes grief must be witnessed to move beyond the familiar idea of acceptance. He suggests having a funeral to honor the life and legacy of your loved one with close family members and friends, as this gives you an opportunity to see and hear others grieve.

While funerals and memorials allow us to acknowledge loss, it’s important to remember that grief is a journey—not a destination—we will arrive at a specific time.

Coping Throughout Your Grief Journey

The stages of grief are often unpredictable, and some days may feel better or worse than others. You may have a “good” day following a loss, only to have the smallest reminder of your loved one pop up, bringing you back to a specific stage of your grief.

While there’s no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a loved one, there are healthy ways to cope. These include:

  • Acknowledge your emotions.
  • Accept that grief can trigger unexpected emotions.
  • Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
  • Seek out support from the people you love.
  • Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.

>>>Related Resource: Check out eight Northeast Ohio grief support groups that provide bereavement care.

Every person goes through this journey in his or her own way. You may experience acceptance and then anger without ever going through depression. Or, you may be in such shock that you do not experience acceptance for a while.

No matter your response to grief, it’s important to be patient with yourself. Allow the grieving process to naturally unfold by tending to your emotions in a way that’s right for you. Your experience may differ than the five stages of grief because we all cope with loss differently.

>>>Related Resource: Discover three steps to help you return to everyday activities after a loss.

Get the Grief Support You Need

As you navigate your grief journey, the caring staff at Busch Funeral and Crematory Services is here to offer you support. We encourage you to subscribe to our weekly grief support newsletter, A Journey Towards Healing. When you subscribe, you’ll receive weekly emails of encouragement across an entire year of your grief journey. Plus, you’ll get access to information about local grief support groups to help you heal. 

Subscribe to our grief support newsletter



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