There is no approved timetable for grief. Progress through the stages of dealing with loss and grief are not as predictable or as linear as we would wish, and there is no specific timetable; everyone progresses at their own pace.
The 5 stages of grief, as described by Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, are first, denial and isolation, second, anger, third is bargaining, fourth is depression and last, acceptance.
These stages are relevant to all serious loss we experience, not only loss due to death. There are losses due to breakups or divorce, due to a layoff, a move, or even a loss of trust when there is a betrayal. There are losses when an elderly parent develops dementia and no longer recognizes loved ones. There is a loss when a beloved pet runs away, or when someone we care about ends the relationship and we don’t know, and are never told, why.
Denial, or numbness is a common reaction to loss. It is protective, in that it allows us to psychologically organize and take in the loss in manageable stages. This can be particularly important when arrangements connected to a loss such as death must be made.
Anger comes when we feel helpless in the face of loss and emotional pain. We can’t undo it – and we can’t control it.
Bargaining is the stage when we attempt to figure it all out, i.e. “if only I had done this certain thing, would I still be experiencing this loss?” At this point we begin to come to terms with the “why”, as much as may be possible.
In the depression stage, the true impact of the loss and all that it means becomes apparent. There may be a sense of loneliness, isolation, even symptoms of clinical depression.
As we reach acceptance, the loss becomes integrated into life. The intensity of emotion begins to decrease, as does the frequency of thoughts about the loss. While the loss may always be evocative of emotion, thoughts and feelings about the loss no longer dominate.
Some behaviors can get in the way of moving through these stages; denying the emotional impact, avoidance of experiencing emotion, and overuse of drugs/alcohol to blunt emotion are a few.
And, some behaviors can help to resolve grief, such as talking to a trusted friend or family member, allowing yourself to experience your emotions for timed periods every day (5-10 minutes), giving yourself time time to heal from the loss, finding a support group of others who have experienced a similar loss ,or journaling about what you are going through, to name a few.
If grief is experienced to a disabling degree, and you or your loved one are unable to work, function as needed, are experiencing troubles eating or sleeping for prolonged periods, or are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, seek professional help right away. If you are in my area, call my voicemail number at 408-566-3119 and follow instructions for obtaining urgent help.
These stages are experienced by a grieving person to a greater or lesser degree. I urge you to request professional help if your grief seems overwhelming or unmanageable. A therapist such as myself can help.