What are the Stages of Grief?


Grief is a natural response to the death of a loved one and is also probably the most complicated and misunderstood emotion.


There is yet to be a unanimous number on the stages of grief as different experts claim different numbers.


Some claim there are 5 stages of grief, 6 stages of grief, 7 seven stages of grief, 9 stages of grief, 12 stages of grief. The key question is, which of them should we follow?


We all experience grief at some point in our lives, and we appear to have a preconceived idea of what grief experience looks and feels like. 


The way we experience grief varies from person to person and depends on factors like age, background, belief system, social relations, and mental health.


All these factors contribute to the individual grief experience, which we can divide into different types.


Having a comprehensive understanding of different grief processing models is important to be better prepared and support others who are dealing with grief.

Below is the table of content you can use to navigate any specific question you have in your mind.

Stages of Grief Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are There So Many Numbers on the Stages of Grief?

There has been some debate about why there are so many stages of grief. Friends and family often talk about the five stages of grief. The concept of dividing grief into stages is much older and came originally from the works of psychologists John Bowlby and Colin Murray-Parks, who had written an extensive amount of literature on bereavement. They identified four stages of grief based on interviews with widows, e.g., Numbness, Yearning and Protest, Despair and disorganisation, and Reorganisation and recovery. Then, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross conducted a series of interviews with terminally ill people and wrote in her book “On Death and Dying” that grief can be divided into five stages. She based her theory on years of working experience with terminally ill people, and later it became a publicly known Kübler-Ross model. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to describe the experience of impending death. Though these stages haven’t been tested in any systematic way but are still being widely accepted as a part of a normal cycle of grief. The 7-stage model of grief is a slightly newer model highlighted in “The Book on Death” by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. The model includes some key emotions that were missing in the previous model. All the grief stages are the same as in the 5-stage model, with two additional stages of shock and bargaining being introduced. The model begins with shock and belief, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression, and acceptance.

What's the Difference Between Stages of Grief and Grieving Process?

One of the commonly held misconceptions by the public is that grief proceeds in stages. If you’re already familiar with stages of grief, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross deserves the credit for it. But what you may not know is that she didn’t originally develop the stages to explain what people experience after losing a loved one. Instead, the aim was to describe the patient’s feelings going through a terminal illness. The five stages, denial, anger, bargain, depression, and acceptance were applied later to the patients’ grieving family members who were experiencing similar feelings after the death. Turned out, the grieving process isn’t as simple as it looks. Studies have shown that grievers don’t systematically go through these stages. When we lose a loved one, we may find these stages fitting precisely as Kubler-Ross explained, or we may skip all but one. We may even repeat the stages or race through them to the last stage, acceptance. Even Kubler-Ross mentions that grief doesn’t proceed predictably. The actual grief process is not a well-ordered set of stages, but more like an emotional roller-coaster.

Is There A Difference Between Stages and Phases of Grief?

Bowlby and Parkes proposed phases of grief in the early 1960s, while Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief came out in 1969 and have become the most widely used model by psychiatrists and mental health professionals. Both models describe the process of grief with slight differences. The 1st stage of Kübler-Ross’s grief stage model, “denial” resembles what Bowlby and Parkes’s phase model named numbness and shock. The 2nd stage “anger” of Elizabeth’s model departs from the Phase model “Yearning and longing”. The griever demands to understand why the loss or illness has happened to them, whereas in the phase model the griever experiences the feeling of longing for the deceased. In the 3rd stage, bargaining. The bereaved desires to undo the cause of loss, or death during the grief phase “disorganisation and despair” which is marked by the feelings of withdrawal and disengagement and can be connected to Ross’s model stage 4, “depression” Then comes the fifth and last stage acceptance, which is like the 4th phase of grief “Reorganisation and Recovery” in which the grieving person accepts the new reality and returns to the new normal.

Are the Stages of Grief Linear?

Grief is not a linear process and can be particular to each individual. We may skip, revisit, or linger in stages according to our circumstances. Everyone has a different grief process and may experience the phases of grief in an entirely distinct order or some phases, not at all. There’s no specific order to grieve. Each of the grief stages may or you may not experience them in a certain order.

Are Stages of Grief Always in Order?

The stages of grief don’t always happen in the already fixed Sequence. The experience of grief is unique to each individual and may not be well-captured by the fixed sequence of stages. You may go through each stage one by one or experience multiple stages at a time on your way to healing. You’ll find yourself at acceptance, and then suddenly you’ll bounce back to bargaining or denial. The last stage of grief may not be the stage for some people to go through before completely accepting the truth. Any stage can lead you towards acceptance, all you have to remember is that it’s your grief and only you can find the best way to overcome it.

Are the Five Stages of Grief Always Relevant?

Not everyone experiences all five stages of grief. Some people experience grief in the same sequence while for some the order may be jumbled, certain stages may rise to prominence more than once, and the progression of stages may stall.

Is there a Difference Between Stages of Grief and Stages of Loss?

Grief is a natural emotional response to a loss such as losing a loved one, pet, job, or way of life. The more significant the loss, the more intense is grief going to be. The stages of grief are the same as stages of loss as you can’t feel the one in the absence of the other.

What Happens When We Don’t Grieve?

The sudden death of a loved one can leave a person shocked for a while, delaying the grieving process. When the person doesn’t deal with feelings of grief properly, it could lead to acute depression or worse.

Does Grief Get Worse Before It Gets Better?

One thing about grief no one tells you about grief is that it will get worse before it gets better. The most tough time comes 4-6 months after a loss. The numbness and shock wear off and you felt a new reality. This experience can be hard because your family and friends may expect you to feel better at precisely the time you're at your worst.

How Long Does It Take to Go Through the Stages of Grief?

There is no specific timeline for how long it would take to go through the stages of grief. After a year, it may still feel like it happened yesterday or may feel like it happened a lifetime ago. It takes at least a year to realise what has changed in your life without the deceased while coping with long-term grief.

How Long is it Appropriate to Grieve?

How long it takes to grieve varies from person to person and may be influenced by several factors. For example, the bereaved person dealing with anticipated grief may find it easier to process their grief faster and move forward with their life. While the bereaved person experiencing complicated or prolonged grief may find the grieving process to last for a year or longer.

What are the Signs of Mourning?

We can describe mourning as an outward expression of grieving the loss of a loved one. It usually involves rituals determined by the culture to make sense of the death of their loved one. The common signs of mourning include Agitation, anxiety, apathy, anger, emptiness, despair, fear, guilt, isolation, loneliness, Numbness, impatience, sadness, etc.

What are the Five Types of Grief According to Elisabeth Kübler Ross?

Denial Denial according to Elisabeth is the first stage of grief when the bereaved person refuses to believe the loss and pretends like it hasn’t happened. It’s the emotional coping mechanism to the overwhelming shock. Anger In this stage, the bereaved person uses anger as a masking effect. The bereaved are easily triggered and even think about getting revenge from whoever or whatever they perceive to cause that loss. Bargaining Bargaining is also the 7th stage in the seven-step grief model in which the bereaved person look for the impossible ways to reverse their loss like making plea bargains with their high-power to regain control of their life. Depression During this stage, the bereaved person feel extreme hopelessness and loose the zest for life. After moving past the rage and asking high-power to reverse the outcome, reality sets in and can lead to both sadness and clinical depression. Acceptance The last stage in grief stage theory is acceptance in which the bereaved person come to terms with their loss and it becomes more manageable. It doesn’t mean that the grief is over, or the happy phase is going to start.

How Long Does Anger Stage of Grief Last?

Anger is one of the most complex human emotions to deal with. Once the person realises that the loss is real, they start feeling rage, which is a normal part of the grieving process. How long the anger stage lasts is different for everyone, but through practicing relaxation, meditation, and self-care techniques you can successfully move through the anger stage of grief.

What is the Basic Problem with Kübler Ross's Five Stages of Grief?

The model implies that failure to complete all stages of grief would cause multiple complications, although after capturing the views of both professional and lay community, the model has been widely criticised and has been empirically rejected.


Stages of Grief

Alternative Models of Grief

Is Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s Five Stages of grief the only framework to help those grieving?

Over the years, many psychologists have proposed several grief theories aiming to identify the stages of grief the bereaved experience after the death of a loved one. The following grief theories are among the best-known models on how people grieve and learn to heal.

Randos Six Process of Mourning

The Six Rs of Mourning is a theory given by clinical psychologist Dr Therese Rando, which explains how a grieving process is a healing act itself. She has identified six tasks to work through the four phases of grief. Here’s what it looks like: Avoidance It’s when you’re unable to understand what has happened. This phase has one task: Recognise the loss: which means understanding what actually happened and acknowledging it. Confrontation It involves processing what you’re going through and dealing with it. It has three tasks: React to separation: Embracing all the intense emotions you’re feeling and acknowledging secondary losses. Recollect and re-experience: Recalling your memories with the deceased and maintaining the relationship. Relinquish old attachments: Slowly processing the impact of their absence and getting used to it. Accommodation This phase is about being able to enjoy moments of happiness again and finding meaning in life. It has two tasks to be accomplished: Readjust to the new world: Becoming comfortable with additional responsibilities and roles while accepting how the death of a loved one has affected you. Reinvest emotional energy: Rediscovering the purpose of life and cherishing happy moments again.

Worden's Four Tasks of Mourning

Dr J. William Wordon’s Four Tasks of Grieving, explains four things people attempt to do for dealing with the death of a loved one. The four tasks can be dealt with individually or at once. Accept the reality of the loss It refers to acknowledging the death of a loved one emotionally and accepting that they’re really gone. It may also mean accepting how important they were to you and the impact of their death in your life. Process the Pain of Grief This task involves understanding your grief and the emotions you are feeling. The feeling of avoidance can be harmful and may cause emotional disorders. Adjust to an Environment in Which the Deceased is Missing This task is adjusting yourself in the environment in which the deceased is missing. The readjustment may take a lot of time depending on the relationship with the deceased and can require some internal adjustments as well. Find an Enduring Connection with the Deceased While Embarking a New Life The final task is remembering and honouring your loved ones and looking for new ways to start living without them. Even though they’re gone, but their warmth will always be with you.

Parkes and Bowlby Phases of Grief

British psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes developed a model of grief based on Bowlby's theory of attachment, suggesting there are four phases of mourning when experiencing the loss of a loved one: Shock and Numbness This phase follows immediately after death happens. The grieving person feels numb as an emotional defence mechanism to survive the shock. Yearning and Searching This phase is characterised by a grieving person longing and yearning for the deceased person to come back and fill the hollow created by their death. The person can feel a variety of emotions like sadness, crying, anxiety, and confusion. Disorganisation and Despair This phase is marked by the feelings of withdrawal and disengagement from others and the activities they enjoyed before. The initial acceptance of the reality of the loss makes the feelings of yearning less intense, and the grieving person may experience apathy, despair, anger, and hopelessness. Reorganisation and Recovery The final phase starts with a grieving person returning to the new normal. The overwhelming feelings of sadness, despair, and anger lose intensity and interest in the enjoyable activities returns. The thoughts of despair are replaced by wonderful memories of the deceased.


Final thoughts

The stages of grief were never intended to be a roadmap as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross reflected about 25 years after the first introduction of the stages of grief when she said:


"The stages of grief were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to a loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives." On Grief and Grieving (1995)


“Grief is the normal but bewildering cluster of ordinary human emotions arising in response to a significant loss, intensified and complicated by the relationship we have lost.” Dr Bill Webster.


Grief is not a contest to see who will fit five Kubler-Ross stages best or a race to the finish line. The emotions of grief can often feel overwhelming.


Whilst grief is universal it is also unique, which means that an extremely personal thing that only you know how to cope with.


I hope that this FAQ on stages of grief helps you make sense of the different emotions of grief that you may experience during your grieving process.


It is important to note that these models are frameworks and you should not be bent on neatly fitting into any one of them.


They serve as a guide as you learn to cope with grief following the death of your loved one.


I hope that understanding different grief model will help you develop a better coping, grieving process and strategies.

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