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The five stages of grief


Grieving is a tough but necessary part of life says DR VASILIOS SILIVISTRIS

When someone is bereaved, they usually experience an intense feeling of sorrow called grief. People grieve to accept a deep loss and carry on with their life. In my work with bereaved clients, I believe that if you do not grieve at the time of death, or shortly after, the grief may stay bottled up inside you. This can lead to emotional problems and even physical illness later on.

Working through grief can be a painful process, but it is often necessary to ensure future emotional and physical wellbeing.

There is no single way to grieve. Everyone is different and each person grieves in his or her own way. However, people commonly experience some stages of grief when they are bereaved. There is no set timescale for reaching these stages, but it can help to know what the stages are and that intense emotions and swift mood changes are normal.


Stages of grief

Though there is no set pathway for grief, it has been theorised that some distinct stages may be apparent in the bereaved as a five-stage process.

  • Denial and feeling numb
  • Isolation
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

The stages of grief are not distinct, and there is usually some overlap between them. Feeling emotionally numb is often the first reaction to a loss. This may last for a few hours, days or longer. In some ways, this numbness can help you get through the practical arrangements and family pressures that surround the funeral, but if this phase goes on for too long it can become a problem.

Numbness may be replaced by a deep yearning for the person who has died. You may feel agitated, and angry, and find it difficult to concentrate, relax and sleep. You may also feel guilty, dwelling on arguments you had with that person or on emotions/words, you wished you had expressed.

This period of strong emotion usually gives way to bouts of intense sadness, silence and withdrawal from family and friends.

Over time, the pain, sadness and depression start to lessen. You begin to see your life in a more positive light again. Although it is important to acknowledge there may always be a feeling of loss, you learn to live with it.

The final phase of grieving is to let go of the person who has died and carry on with your life. Your sleeping patterns and energy levels return to normal.

The grieving process can take some time. In general, though, it usually takes one or two years to recover from a major bereavement.

There are many things you can do to help yourself cope during this time. Ask for help and support from family and friends or even talk to a counsellor. Try to express whatever you are feeling, be it anger, guilt, shame or sadness.

Sometimes, the grieving process is especially difficult. Some find it impossible to acknowledge the bereavement at all. This sometimes happens after a miscarriage or abortion. It may also happen if you do not have time to grieve properly, perhaps because of work pressures or if you are looking after your family.

Others may be unable to move on from their grief or remain in the numb stages of grief, finding it hard to believe the person is dead. Such difficult grieving can lead to recurring bouts of depression, loss of appetite and even suicidal feelings.

Other circumstances around the death can lead to a difficult grieving process. These include:

  • A sudden and unexpected death
  • Miscarriage, death of a baby or child
  • Suicide
  • Deaths where the bereaved may be responsible

Bereavement is probably one of the toughest things we have to face in life. It is a natural process of loss we have to experience as it makes us aware of our mortality and those of our loved ones.


Dr Vasilios Silivistris (Vasos) is a psychotherapist, counselling practitioner,

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