As a responsible, caring, and loving spouse and parent you’ve created an estate plan for your family. Upon your death, the executor and beneficiaries will have clear guidance of your intentions. The legality and distribution of your assets will be handled efficiently; however, the matter of the heart for those left behind is not so simple. Your passing will cause loved ones to grieve – their lives will be changed forever. Grief is universal. At some point in life, everyone will experience the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or even the end of a career. This post will explore the five stages of grief that a family member could experience upon your passing.
Everyone’s experience of grief is unique and personal. The grieving process has no timelines or schedules, nor is it neat or linear. Family members will cry, become angry, withdraw, and even feel empty. All of these emotions are not unexpected or wrong. While everyone will grieve differently, there are some universal commonalities expressed in the five stages of grief.
Five Stages of Grief
In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, wrote “On Death and Dying.” In her book, Kübler-Ross stated that grief could be divided into five stages: 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance. She developed these five stages after years of observing and working with terminally ill individuals. The stages were originally devised for people who were ill; eventually her findings were adapted for other experiences of loss and grief. In addition to her five stages of grief theory, a few other models exist too; including ones citing seven stages.
Order of Stages
A commonly asked question: does grief always follow the same order of stages? As everyone experiences grief in a highly individualized manner, not all stages will flow in consecutive order. In fact, some stages may be absent; in some cases, a particular stage may become the prominent focus or even repeat itself. Grief is unique for everyone, so a loved one could experience all five stages, pause on one for a period of time, or even skip a stage.
Stage 1: Denial
No matter the situation or experience, grief is an overwhelming emotion for everyone. Intense and often sudden feelings of denial, or pretending the life changing event didn’t happen, can occur. In a way, this common defense mechanism provides your loved one with time to slowly absorb and process the loss. While moving out of denial, their suppressed emotions will surface; as part of this stage, your loved one could be confronted with the sorrow that’s been denied.
Stage 2: Anger
The anger stage is necessary to complete the healing process. While the previous stage, denial, is considered a coping mechanism, anger is a reactionary feeling. Your loved one should be willing to feel their anger, which may seem unending at times; however, the reality is that anger will dissipate and lead to healing. During this time period, a loved one’s anger may be directed at other family members, friends, and even inanimate objects. Bitterness or resentment can also arise at this time; all of which is natural. Fortunately, as feelings of anger recede, your loved one may start to rationally think about what happened, examine the situation in greater context, and start to experience any emotions that were previously denied.
Stage 3: Bargaining
In the bargaining stage of grieving, your loved one could experience feelings of vulnerability and helplessness. At this time, it’s typical for someone to look for ways to regain control of the situation or event. A lot of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ sentiments are explored by your loved one. Also, if you have religious believers in your family, it’s common for these people to seek comfort in, or bargain with a higher power. Promises to God in exchange for healing or relief from their pain is to be expected. Ultimately, the bargaining stage is a defensive posture against the emotions of grief; which postpones the feelings of sadness, confusion, and pain.
Stage 4: Depression
Similar to the other stages of grief, depression can be a difficult, messy, and unpredictable period. Often characterized as the quiet stage of grief, a loved one can find themselves isolated from others; during which time they explore ways of coping with the loss. By the time one reaches the depression stage, hopefully, they’re able to embrace and work through this phase in a healthful manner. That being said, under no circumstances should depression be considered an easy or well-defined stage; in fact, if a loved one is feeling overwhelmed or stuck, it’s highly recommended they speak with a mental health therapist.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The fifth stage, acceptance, should not be considered a happy or joyous occasion. A major occurrence has happened in your loved one’s life. It’s a phase to reflect upon and accept that more good days lay ahead. Tough days will still happen, but it’s okay to acknowledge one’s blessings and current reality. As stated earlier, the stages of grieving may not follow a predetermined order. At this phase an individual has accepted the loss; hopefully, they’ve come to understand the significance of what it means in their life now.
It’s important to understand that a loved one will grieve in their own unique way. Grief is a personal journey. As each person experiences and travels through the stages differently, and in their own time, it can take weeks or even years to process.
If a loved one is struggling with their feelings of pain and loss, we highly recommend they connect with a mental health professional. Therapists can provide comfort and security when discussing the weighty emotions of grief.
Disclaimer. HereToday is not an accounting, legal, or mental health service. This content should not be taken as accounting, legal, or psychological advice.