The five stages of grief

Everyone’s experience and response to loss and grief will be different and many factors may affect your feelings such as who the person was, the nature of your relationship or the circumstances around how the person died.

The five stages of grief

It is important to understand that there is no right or ‘normal’ response to loss.

There are, however, some common reactions and feelings that you may experience in the hours, days, weeks and months following a death or traumatic event. These feelings can sometimes be very strong and frightening, and may ebb and flow. The five stages of grief do not necessarily occur in any specific order.

It is very common for people to move between stages repeatedly before there is some acceptance of the loss and a feeling that they are adapting to the world as it is now.

Everyone’s reaction to a major loss is different and you may not go through every stage of grief.

Instead, it’s more helpful to look at the stages as guides in the grieving process, which can help you recognise and understand your feelings, emotions and behaviours.

The five stages of grief - Denial


Losses you are unprepared for, particularly if you were not present to hold or touch the person, can be difficult to accept as real. It’s not  unusual to pretend the loss hasn’t happened at all and you may enter a state of shock, denial and numbness.

This is a common defence mechanism which  helps us to cope, making survival possible by only letting in as much as we are able to handle at that time. As you begin to accept the reality of the loss, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process. However, the emotions you may have been trying to suppress during the denial stage of grief could begin to rise to the surface.

The five stages of grief - Anger


Anger is a very common phase of the grieving process. It can be a natural reaction to loss and a way of hiding the fear and painful emotions that you may be feeling.

  • If you lose someone as a result of a violent attack or accident, your anger may be directed against those who you see as the perpetrators.
  • A death caused by error or negligence may cause you to direct your anger at those in authority.
  • It is not unusual to become angry with the person who has died You may resent the person for causing you pain or for ‘leaving’ you.
  • Feelings of guilt for being angry with them can also serve to increase your anger.

In some cases, you may get angry with the people you love, or even direct your anger at yourself. You may feel a huge burden of guilt or blame yourself for:

  • not having done enough to protect or save the person
  • things you may have said or done in the past
  • being alive when our loved one, colleague or friend is no longer here

Anger is possibly one of the strongest and most challenging emotions that you may experience in grief. However, it is important to understand that anger doesn’t need to be destructive; focused in the right way, it can be a force for good and may help you express feelings and emotions that have been suppressed as you try to come to terms with the loss.

When you don’t allow yourself to feel angry, you might find yourself lashing out or reacting in other unhealthy and counterproductive ways. Remember that it is okay to feel angry, but it important to have healthy ways to diffuse your anger. Being aware of triggers, or what escalates your anger and using coping strategies like meditation or writing down your angry  thoughts may help. However, if your anger persists unabated, it may be helpful to seek professional support.

The five stages of grief - Bargaining


Bargaining is a line of defence against the emotions of grief. It may help you postpone the sadness, confusion, or hurt. Grief can make you feel vulnerable and helpless. As you
experience those moments of intense emotions, it’s not uncommon to look for ways to regain control or want to feel like you can change the outcome of an event. In these instances, you may find yourself creating a lot of ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ statements as we tend  to assume that if things had played out differently, we would not be in such an emotionally painful place in our lives.

Guilt often accompanies bargaining. You may start to believe there was something you could have done differently to save the person who died. It’s also common for religious or  spiritual people to try to make a deal/ promise to God or a higher power in return for healing, relief or even for a different outcome.

The five stages of grief - Depression


Although this is a very natural stage of grief, dealing with depression after a bereavement can be extremely isolating and overwhelming. Depression is not a sign of mental illness, but an appropriate and understandable response to losing someone you care about. As you start to feel the reality of the loss, feelings of depression and low mood may come to the
surface in the form of emptiness, fear, sadness and hopelessness.

Losing someone may trigger memories of other deaths that you have experienced in your life. You may feel frightened about being left alone, or of a similar event happening again. A
sound, or smell, or visiting a particular place could remind you of that person and may evoke very strong memories.

During this phase of grief, you may find yourself retreating or becoming withdrawn and less sociable. You may feel empty and hopeless about the future, or that life is not worth living.
You may also feel like harming yourself or, in extreme cases. have suicidal thoughts. While depression is a normal phase of grieving, some people may get ‘stuck’ and not feel able to
move past this stage. In these cases, it may be beneficial to seek professional help from a  therapist or bereavement counsellor.

The five stages of grief - Acceptance


This phase is about accepting the reality that someone has died and is physically gone. Reaching this stage is a gift not necessarily afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden or unexpected and we may never see beyond our anger or denial. However, we try to learn to live with it.

Acceptance is not about ‘getting over it’ and doesn’t necessarily mean that we no longer feel the pain of loss. This phase of grief is about re-adjustment and coming to terms with how your life will be without that person. You may start to reach out to others and tentatively begin to live again, knowing that there will be good days and bad days, and that’s okay.

“We are often asked for bereavement counselling from people with a few weeks of losing a loved one who are surprised when we advise they should wait 4-6 months following their bereavement before beginning counselling to leave space for the natural grieving process to take place.”

TASC’s Wellbeing Support Manager

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This page was last updated in November 2021.