4 stages of bereavement

5 October 2011

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

From shock to strength: it does get better

In our day to day lives, loss affects each of us on some scale.

There can be smaller losses such as dropping some loose change from a pocket, or a slight scratch on a brand new car.

At other times there may be significant losses, such as a house burning down, the loss of eyesight, or even the death of a loved one.

The type of loss we will explore here is the one you go through when someone close to you passes away.

Loss that leads to bereavement

Along with loss comes bereavement – a range of feelings over time that arise from that loss.

If you are facing a significant loss yourself, or are seeking to support someone who is going through a major loss, you may notice a pattern of bereavement that is common for many people.

The four stages of bereavement

There are four common stages of bereavement:

  1. immediate shock
  2. unable to accept
  3. depression
  4. renewal

However, keep in mind that we are all different. Grief is individual, and the way and order in which we grieve will vary.

Stage 1: Immediate reaction of shock

As soon as the death occurs, and over the following hours and days, you may be in a state of shocked disbelief.

Alternatively, instead of immediate shock, you may be rather calm and detached.

Either reaction is natural and understandable.

Stage 2: Unable to accept

At this stage, you may think that the person you have lost is still physically with you.

You are unable to accept the loss, and at some level are denying that the death has occurred.

You may make mistakes that may confuse or frighten you. Examples include:

  • waking up and expecting them to be lying next to you.
  • going downstairs in the morning and expecting them to be in the kitchen as usual, lovingly preparing breakfast for you.
  • laying a place for them at the dinner table.
  • calling the family down for dinner and calling their name out too.

This might freak you out a bit, but it is all normal. Daily habits are so deeply ingrained that they will continue to be part of your day.

Stage 3: Depressed and alone

No matter how many people are around you, or how much support you receive, you will have small moments or even long periods of time when you feel lost, alone and confused.

This could span across many many months.

You may question your own faith, your faith in God, faith in other people, and even faith in yourself.

You may lose interest in everything and may want to shut yourself off from the world.

You may question whether even your own life is worth living.

This may be a very heavy and lonely time.

Even this phase passes.

Stage 4: Renewed strength and focus

Eventually, as the pain eases, you find yourself being able to think about the person you have lost, without feeling sad.

This is a chance to recommence life with a renewed sense of strength and focus.

You could continue with old interests, or you could take up new pursuits.

Do you feel disloyal to the person who has died?

Remember that they are always a part of you, and you can allow yourself to enjoy the present.

There was a man whose wife had died. They had been married over 25 years. 18 months after she died, he took up salsa classes and started dating. He had discovered how to have fun again and his spirit was renewed.

From shock to strength: it does get better

From the moment the death occurs, you may feel grief and sadness, but you may also experience feelings of anger, fear, self-pity or even panic.

You don’t need to hide them – they are a part of your bereavement.

Share these feelings with a sympathetic listener – it does help.

Some of your friends may avoid you – this happens. It is most likely that they are embarrassed and don’t know what to say. Be understanding. Take the first step and let them know you need their support.

Grief is a very isolating process – we feel as if no-one could possibly experience what we are going through. But millions of people around the world have been through it, and they are doing fine now.

Whatever stage of bereavement you are at, remember that the pain will pass and life will again be full of strength, focus and joy.

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