Grief is a very personal emotion and everyone experiences grief in very different ways. However, it is generally accepted that every person goes through five universal stages of grieving.
Many of us will naturally react by doing the usual things such as attending services, or sending fruit baskets or sympathy cards to those who have recently suffered a loss. If we really want to help and support our co-workers, friends or relatives, it can be useful to know and understand the 5 stages of grief.
This idea was developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, in 1969. These stages were meant to be used as a tool in diagnosing and helping individuals facing terminal illness, as well as those suffering from the loss of a loved one.
- The first stage of grief is denial. No one wants to believe that a loved one has passed on. It is easier and safer on the psyche to believe that a terrible mistake has occurred and their loved one is not gone. This stage does not last long and reality quickly sets in with funeral plans and the physical loss of the individual.
- The next phase is anger and the person is not easy to console. They direct this rage towards those around them and even towards God. They do not understand why this happened to them and look to find someone to blame for the death.
- The third stage involves bargaining for the return of their loved one. The individual pleads with a higher authority to bring their loved one back, and in return, they will be a better person or do something/anything for their return.
- The fourth stage is depression, and this can last a long time. It is at this stage that psychiatric help or counseling sometimes becomes necessary to help the individual work through their depression.
- During the final phase, a semblance of acceptance regarding the loss of their loved one is reached and the individual can resume a somewhat normal life. When thoughts of their loved one occur, they are filled with sadness yet also fond memories of the person and the relationship they once had.
Once you have knowledge of the 5 stages of grief, you can be more prepared to help someone who is suffering. It’s always hard to know exactly what to say, particularly when a death first occurs, which is one reason why people often turn to sympathy cards to convey their thoughts and condolences, but you need not be limited to them if you have a sincere desire to help.
As time passes, support of others tends to trickle off. Sending a note card or a Thinking of You card is a thoughtful way to let your friends and relatives know that you have not forgotten them or their loss, particularly on milestones such as birthdays or anniversaries which can prove to be especially trying. Sometimes, just lending a helpful hand, calling or visiting and offering a sympathetic ear can be the biggest help of all to someone who is grieving.