Whether it’s for work or the rest of life, I like to make a plan and have a schedule. But no matter how hard we try, certain things just aren’t meant to happen in an orderly fashion. One of those things is grief.
Logically speaking, the loss I suffered shouldn’t have been that devastating. My grandpa Roger was 92 years old when he passed away in 2020. He lived a very long, full life, and for most of that time he was healthy and happy.
But when he passed away, my grief at losing him was compounded by my grief over the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a spiral that took a long time to pull out of. As I struggled to recover from the loss, I found myself asking the same questions I’m sure many others have. These might sound familiar to you, too.
Shouldn’t I be past this stage of grief by now?
Whenever we lose someone, the stages of grief inevitably come up. Comments like, “It’s okay that you’re angry, it’s a stage you have to go through,” or “Of course it doesn’t feel real, you’re in denial,” seem to crop up left and right from friends, concerned acquaintances, and other mourners.
The concept of the five stages of grief was created in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying.” Since then, they’ve become a refrain that most people can recite from memory. As Kübler-Ross defines them, these stages are:
- Denial: The reality of the loss has not sunk in, and you struggle to process the magnitude of what’s happened. You may find yourself saying things like “There must be some kind of mistake.”
- Anger: The pain of loss combines with feelings of helplessness, leading to frustration and anger. Anger can serve as an emotional buffer; when you’re feeling angry, it draws focus away from your pain.
- Bargaining: During this stage, you try to ease suffering by striking a deal, often with some higher power. It can also involve ruminating on past experiences with a loved one that can’t be changed. For instance, you may think, “If only I’d insisted they go to the doctor earlier, we might have caught the illness in time to save them.”
- Depression: When the loss becomes real to you, it can feel overwhelming. During the depression stage, you experience the pain of loss acutely and fixate on everything that will now be missing from your life. You may feel helpless, sorrowful, and generally low.
- Acceptance: Acceptance isn’t synonymous with “moving on.” Instead, it means you’ve embraced your new reality. You can begin to imagine the future and what this new version of your life will look like.
Kübler-Ross’s colleague David Kessler, a world-renowned grief expert, introduced a sixth stage of grief in 2019:
- Finding meaning: Kessler defines this stage as the time after a loss in which you can move forward and live in a way that honors your loved one’s memory. You’re able to look back on memories of them with more love and gratitude than pain.