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  • Sarah Rossmiller LPC

10 Stages of Grief: Exploring the Depths of Loss

Grief is a profound and universal human experience, often associated with the loss of a loved one, but it can also emerge in response to various life changes and losses such as the end of a significant relationship, the loss of a job or career, the diagnosis of a serious illness, the loss of a pet, the experience of a traumatic event, or even significant changes in one's identity or sense of self.

misty stairs journey of grief

Many people find it helpful to identify and acknowledge different aspects of grief. Originally, a set of five stages were first introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and over the years these stages were built upon and expanded by various experts and researchers to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how people experience grief.

However, the stages of grief are not universally agreed upon, and there is no one-size-fits-all model for how individuals experience grief. Grief is not necessarily a linear experience - it's not like a train that starts and ends with predictable stops along the way. Grief a complex and individualized process for each person experiencing it. It can be chaotic, with emotions fluctuating and evolving over time. Some may not go through all the stages, while others may experience them in a different order or repeatedly cycle through them. There's no universal "right" or "wrong" way to grieve, and every individual's experience is valid.

The 10 stages of grief outlined here can provide a helpful framework for understanding and coping with grief, but they should be viewed as a general guide or catalog of common experiences within grief rather than a rigid roadmap for everyone's grieving process.

The 10 Stages of Grief

1. Shock or Disbelief:

Initially when faced with loss, especially when it was sudden and unexpected, we might find ourselves in a state of shock or disbelief. It can feel like a wave of numbness, confusion, and overwhelm, like the ground beneath us has disappeared.


2. Denial:

Denial can be our first line of defense against the painful truth of loss. We might find ourselves unable to accept what has happened, clinging to a hope that it's all just a bad dream. It's a coping mechanism - our mind's way of buffering the blow, giving us time to process at our own pace.

3. Anger:

As reality sinks in, anger can flare up like a wildfire. It's a a natural response to grief and can be directed towards ourselves, others, or the situation, as we grapple with the unfairness or injustice of our loss. In this stage, we may seek out someone or something to blame as a way of reclaiming our sense of control.

Anger, bargaining, guilt

4. Bargaining:

In the bargaining stage, we grasp at straws, trying to negotiate our way out of the pain. We make promises to a higher power, to ourselves, or to fate, in a desperate bid to turn back time or rewrite the script. It's our attempt to regain some semblance of normalcy in a situation where control feels utterly lost.


5. Guilt:

Guilt creeps in like a shadow, whispering accusations in our ear. We replay scenarios in our mind, wondering if we could have done things differently, if we're somehow responsible for what has happened. It's a heavy burden to bear, weighing down our hearts with remorse and regret.

6. Anxiety:

Anxiety is a common response to the uncertainty and changes brought about by grief, as we adjust to life without our loved one or familiar circumstances. We worry about the future, about what lies ahead without our loved one by our side. It's the fear of the unknown, the unease of treading unfamiliar ground.

7. Loneliness:

Grief can bring about feelings of isolation or abandonment as we mourn the absence of our loved one or familiar support systems. Navigating grief can often feel like being in the loneliest place on earth, with an expansive void stretching out before us. Within this stage, we navigate a profound sense of emptiness and longing that accompanies the loss.

8. Depression:

Depression settles over us like a heavy blanket, muffling our thoughts and dampening our spirits. It's the weight of despair pressing down on our chests, the ache of longing echoing in our hearts. We can withdraw into ourselves, retreating from the world as we try to make sense of the senseless.

acceptance and meaning making

9. Acceptance:

Acceptance is not about forgetting or moving on, but about making peace with what cannot be changed. It's about finding a way to carry our grief with us, like a precious burden that shapes who we are, and integrating the reality of our loss into our lives.

10. Meaning and Reconstruction:

Here we begin to see glimpses of meaning amidst the chaos. We sift through the ashes of our pain, searching for something meaningful we can take away from it. It's about finding beauty in the brokenness, about weaving a new narrative from the threads of our sorrow. In this stage, as we honor the memory of what is lost, we also reflect on lessons learned and embrace new opportunities for growth and connection.


Remember, not everyone experiences each of these stages or in the same order or intensity, and some individuals may revisit certain stages multiple times. The 10 stages of grief provide a framework, but individuals navigate them in their own time and unique manner.

Support, empathy, and self-compassion are essential when coping with grief. It's okay to seek help from friends, family, or a mental health professional if the grieving process becomes overwhelming. Remember that healing takes time, and it's a journey that's as unique as the relationship or circumstance that's been lost.


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