3 Stages of Grief

Grief is a natural emotional response to an individual's experience with loss. A mixture of feelings can be associated with grief such as sadness, anger, guilt, frustration or regret. People go through stages of the grief response to make peace with the experience and help heal the emotional pain associated with loss 1. Everyone deals with grief differently as it manifests itself through physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive reactions and the healing process can take as much time as a person needs.

Stage 1: Disbelief

Initially, when the death of someone or any experience of loss occurs, disbelief and shock set in. A sudden change in reality causes denial, and an individual may feel disoriented and overwhelmed with the experience. He can fall into emotional numbness and experience feelings of isolation as if "What am I supposed to do now?" According to author and clinical social work expert Phil Rich from "Selfhelp Magazine," a survivor works through the initial stage of grief by adjusting to the changes caused by loss, controlling his emotions in order to appropriately function in daily life and by opening up to accept outside support.

Stage 2: Experiencing the Loss

When a loved one has died, following the utter disbelief of their demise, anger is a common emotion felt at the second stage of grief. A person may feel angry toward her loved one for "leaving her" and, according to HelpGuide.org, ask questions such as "Why is this happening?" or try to place blame for the event on someone or something. Rich also says during this stage, the focus of grieving is very internal and people become deeply immersed in their feelings. According to Towanda, Pennsylvania's, Memorial Hospital, an individual can also direct anger at herself and feel guilt at letting the death "happen," although there is nothing she could have done.

During this stage, bargaining and depression can also occur. People dealing with anticipatory grief such as those with terminal illness may bargain and think an offer from them can be bartered for delaying or escaping death. Additionally, depression may take hold of the individual as she actively experiences the loss.

Stage 3: Reintegration

Although the final stage may be termed in numerous ways such as reintegration, reclamation, reconciliation or acceptance--more importantly, it is when the bereaved individual makes peace with the loss experienced. She accepts the newfound reality and deals with life without the presence of her loved one. As time goes by, the melting pot of emotions felt through the earlier stages decrease in intensity and, as Rich says, people move forward with present life rather than dwelling in the past. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, when these feelings persist and become painfully debilitating, normal grief may turn into complicated grief 2. This condition may require more support and treatment to help people go through the grief response.