Losing Your Loved Ones: Dealing with the Different Stages of Grief

We’ve all been through some form of loss. But there really is no greater loss than that of losing someone you love. Nothing is more shocking and life-altering than the moment you find out a loved one has died. What makes matters worse is when their passing was caused by a heinous act of crime, or happened under mysterious or unexplained circumstances. How do we make sense of such senseless incidents?

How Does One “Move On”?

It is helpful to recognize that grief is often experienced in stages of varying intensity. Not everyone would experience all of these stages of grief and neither is the experience necessarily a linear progression. However, being aware of which stage you are at is helpful for you to gain some sort of perspective of your journey.

Stage 1: Denial

Source: swaleff.wordpress.com
Source: swaleff.wordpress.com

When a loved one’s death is sudden and unexpected (as many deaths are), it sends your entire system into shock and numbness.

Denying that it has happened is often the way that people use to cope for that moment in dealing with the news.

You are wondering how on earth you are going to cope with this. You are in disbelief that you are actually never going to see him/her again. It buys you time to eventually come to terms with the news.

But if you find the news hitting you hard, then you have begun to accept the reality of it all and that is the first step to the recovery process. Physically however, you may feel numb and even not care for personal basic needs such as eating, drinking, and bathing for the moment.

Scenario: When Lila first received the call that her father had died in a motorcycle accident on his way to work, her entire mind was shouting out “NO!!”. It was something that she could not bring herself to believe. It didn’t help that everyone around her started pestering her about what had happened. After a while, she just didn’t bother looking at her phone. She just sat on the floor for three hours, not moving, just staring blankly into space, trying to comprehend the loss that has just happened.

What to do if you’re at this stage

Give yourself time to come to terms with the news. It is very important for you to be involved in the funeral process in order to come to a point of closure.

Stage 2: Anger

Source: bow-san-boitore.high-ks.com
Source: bow-san-boitore.high-ks.com

Why you? Why did God let this happen? Why did he/she do it? Why does evil exist in this world? Why doesn’t anyone else care?

Being at this stage often makes no sense to you and hence you get really angry and frustrated at this stage.

There is nothing you can do to turn things around and there is nothing you can do to bring back your loss which sometimes further exacerbates a sense of helplessness, masked by the face of anger.

However, it is important to know that the anger is another emotion that is fuelled by the intensity of your love for your departed loved one. Hence, it is normal to be angry and it is important to allow yourself that space to be genuinely angry.

Strangely, being angry could help you feel more connected to your loved one, as opposed to being numb to everything. Physically, you may slowly go back to some of your routines or you could even continue to not really care about your needs. This is where sometimes people lose a great deal of weight and could start to look haggard from either not sleeping for extended periods of time or/and crying continuously.

Scenario: Peter still can’t get over the fact that his brother died in a car accident. Why was he speeding? Why did he not drive carefully? How dare he just play with his life like that? Now Peter has to be the only one responsible taking care of mum in her old age. Why did God allow such a thing to happen? Having such thoughts play around in his mind has caused Peter many sleepless nights. At work, he cannot seem to concentrate because he is so angry at everyone and everything.

What to do if you’re at this stage

Having someone or a safe avenue to vent your anger would be very helpful. Remember that anger is a normal and expected response, and sometimes letting it all out in a healthy manner can be very therapeutic.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Source: dorkly.com
Source: dorkly.com

This stage could occur before the death, especially if you were dealing with a terminal illness or it could also occur after the person has gone.

You just need to feel that you could make a deal with God or with Life to give you what you want in exchange for promises of a particular behaviour. You wished that you could just stop the death from occurring. You may even struggle with guilt for being the one to survive instead of the departed loved one.

This stage could last for minutes or it could last for months. Some people keep on going in and out of this stage for some time as their way of trying to gain some sense of control in all the chaos of life ‘after the fact’.

Scenario: Siti cannot accept the fact that her elder sister took her own life. Why didn’t she tell us that she was in so much pain? She looked okay on the outside. If only I could exchange my life for hers. If only I had spent more time with her and not fight so much with her, this would not have happened. If God could bring her back, I would do charity works for the rest of my life. I would promise to be a better person. I would love her unconditionally.

What to do if you’re at this stage

Realise that these thoughts are normal. Rationalising and bargaining comes almost naturally but do not allow them to get the better of you. Survivor’s guilt is common and should also be dealt with knowing that there’s only so much that you can do and that at some point, you need to find a way to move on.

Stage 4: Depression

Source: blogs.psychcentral.com
Source: blogs.psychcentral.com

That bottomless feeling at the bottom of your stomach, the sense of loneliness and utter loss that nobody else seems to understand. The feeling that there will be no tomorrow, and that there is no hope anymore. These provide a small glimpse into what depression can be for many of us.

However, it is vital to realise that the experience of this stage is essential in the progression of self-healing. It is a very normal and appropriate human response to death. You may not even be sure if there is any point in continuing on with your own life.

Similar to the Anger Stage, personal needs may take a backseat during this time and drastic changes in weight may occur as you find some way to fill in the emptiness that you feel. You may start withdrawing from your various social circles or you may not even want to meet any new person. You probably just want to be left alone.

Scenario: Chandran wakes up every morning with a sense of dread. He does not want to get out of bed and neither does he want to go in to work. He has not been sleeping in his own bed ever since his wife died of cancer three months ago. He prefers sleeping on the floor because he does not want to be reminded that his beloved Sheela is no longer lying next to him. He has not been to his usual religious prayer group for months and he does not care for going anymore because after all, prayers did not help to save Sheela.

What to do if you’re at this stage

It is common for those grieving to feel so low that you do not feel happy anymore. Living life in this stage can be particularly difficult, and is often one of the hardest parts of grief. If the depression is too intense that suicide becomes an appealing alternative, it is imperative for that person to seek professional help for grief therapy. If you know of a loved one who’s having a hard time with this stage, encourage them to seek help to get them through this difficult time.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Source: dofh.org
Source: dofh.org

This stage is where you are finally able to come to terms with the entire loss. It is not about brushing away the pain, but rather about deciding that life must indeed go on. It is about finding your own way and about deciding the way forward – how to proceed and what to do next. You may even start thinking about finding new interests and hobbies. You may be more interested in reconnecting with other friends once again.

Scenario: After losing her toddler, Sammy, to an accident at the babysitter’s house a year ago, Mei has finally come to accept that she must carry on for the sake of her two other children. She knows that she will always miss Sammy but she must choose to live and take care of her family. There is nothing she can do replace him, but she knows that somehow, there is still the hope of living. She is grateful that her best friends and family have been so supportive of her throughout the entire ordeal.

No matter at what stage of grief someone is experiencing, it is crucial to know and truly believe that you are not alone in your journey.

While others may not feel exactly the way you do, it does not mean that they are not able to provide you with the emotional and social support that you need. Your loved ones play an important role in helping you through this difficult stage, so try and reach out to them for comfort and solace.

However, for some of us, merely reaching out to family and loved ones may not be enough to help you through these tough moments. If it does come to that, reach out for help. Seeking out professional health from mental health professionals can be a daunting process, but know that they can help navigate you through a confusing and difficult time in your life.

Grief is our way of expressing love for those whom we can never see again. The ability to grieve is what makes us human but we should not let grief consume us.


How do you cope with grief? Share your experience with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!


Contributed by Serena In, a practising clinical psychologist at The Mind Psychological Services & Training.

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