The 7 Stages of Grief

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two women going through stages of grief

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Everyone experiences loss at some point in their lives. Whether it is the loss of a family member, a relationship, or even a job, people grieve those losses in different ways. In order to make sense of the grieving process, researchers have attempted to define grief in various stages.

Keep in mind: everyone experiences grief differently. Not everyone will experience every stage of grief nor will they go through the stages in any particular order. Instead, the stages of grief are a tool for understanding the grieving process and the emotions you or another person are experiencing. There is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of someone or something important to you.

It's important to note that the seven stages of grief are meant to help you better understand your feelings and are not intended to prescribe how you should grieve or what you should be feeling. If you'd like to learn more about your individual grieving process, it's a good idea to reach out to a trusted mental health professional to help you understand your grief and develop appropriate coping strategies.


Grief can be a difficult and messy process. When a loss occurs, one of the first things you may experience is shock. Even when you anticipate a loss—like the death of a loved one with a terminal illness—it can still be surprising and distressing. That's because no one can ever be truly prepared for a loss so significant.

Consequently, when you are in shock after a loss, you may behave normally or as if nothing has happened. Most of the time, this is because your body has not processed the loss yet. You may feel like the situation hasn't "sunk in" just yet. You might also experience numbness or a sense of detachment from what has happened. These feelings and experiences are self-protective mechanisms that act as a buffer so that you are not overwhelmed all at once.


Because the death of a loved one can have such a significant impact on you, you might experience denial. During this stage of grief, it is simply too hard for your brain to comprehend that your family member, friend, or other loved one is gone.

Denial is your brain's way of spacing out your feelings of grief, allowing you to acknowledge and experience only what you can handle in that moment. As you slowly begin to accept the loss and what it means for your life now, your denial will begin to diminish. When denial wears off, you may have a broader range of feelings and emotions.

Until then, you may have periods of time when you feel distressed, which can be triggered by reminders of your loved one. You also may feel emotionally "shut off" from the people around you. In some cases, it's a normal feeling to want to avoid others so that you do not have to acknowledge or discuss your loss. There are times that you feel forgetful, get easily distracted, or procrastinate during this stage of grief. Or, you may try to stay busy all the time or shut down emotionally.

The main takeaway: denial can affect your behavior in several ways and you don't really know how the situation will play out until you're in it. But it's important to remember that however you feel after a loss is valid and OK.


While it is completely normal to feel angry after the death of a loved one or the loss of something important to you, you may feel confused or even embarrassed by these feelings. In these cases, it will be tempting to squash, internalize, or even ignore your angry feelings—but they still exist and will likely manifest themselves in some way.

You also may be surprised to learn that you direct your anger at the person or thing that was lost. In certain situations, you could also feel angry with the healthcare providers, your friends, family members, or even God—or any other spiritual being(s) you believe in. But under all that anger is your pain; and while it may be uncomfortable to deal with, it provides more structure to your grieving than remaining numb.

Remember, that anger is a feeling just like any other and needs to be expressed. The important thing is to find a safe and healthy way to express your anger like pounding a pillow, going for a run, or even ripping up sheets of paper into tiny little pieces. Allowing yourself to express your feelings, helps you process your grief and learn to cope with your new reality.


If you are having feelings of guilt, shame, or blame, your experience may fit into the bargaining stage of grief. During this stage, people often feel helpless and hopeless and ask themselves "what if" questions. You may feel guilty for not doing more to keep the loss from happening or for not spending more time with the person you lost.

During the bargaining stage, it's common to wonder or say, "I should have done this..." or "If I had only done that..." While these types of doubts are normal, they are not where you want your thought process to remain. It is impossible to go back and behave differently or change the circumstances surrounding your loss.

Instead, try thinking about all that you did do to help your loved one and the good memories you have with them. Sometimes, simply reflecting on these thoughts can help you let go of the guilt. It may also be helpful to do something specific like write a letter to your loved one or talk to them out loud.


Once you come to terms with the reality of the loss, a deeper level of sadness may start to creep in. While this stage is called depression, it is important to note that this sadness (or depression) is not the same thing as what those with clinical depression experience. Even though you may experience some of the same symptoms of a depressive disorder—like withdrawing from your daily activities or feeling like you are in a black hole of sadness—these feelings of depression tend to come and go during grief.

One way to distinguish between the depression that is part of the grief process and clinical depression is to understand your symptoms and how often you are experiencing them. When you are grieving you might have a depressed mood for a few days, and then feel better the next. But with clinical depression, your depressed mood is ongoing, persistent, and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

During grief, the sadness may also cause you to lose your appetite or be unable to sleep. If you find that you are not only experiencing these things, but also no longer feeling a sense of joy, have decreased energy, and have thoughts of death or suicide, it is important to talk to a mental health professional for support.

Looking for support?

If you are experiencing a crisis, or know someone who is, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for free and confidential support 24/7. You can also visit for a list of additional resources or call the number below to reach Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline.

(800) 662-4357


The testing stage of the grieving process often involves trying out different things that help you move forward. In this stage, you are starting to build your new normal as well as processing your feelings and emotions created by the loss. For this reason, it is possible to flow in and out of this phase or for other stages of the grief process to overlap with this one.

As you start to move forward, you will start experimenting with ways to better manage your feelings. For instance, you may think about joining a support group, start journaling, or consider trying something new—all of which can help you learn to cope with your loss. In this stage, you are starting to acknowledge your new reality and find practical ways to cope. This looks different for everyone, so experimenting with new things can help you find the support you need.


Reaching the acceptance phase does not mean you are OK with what happened. Instead, this part of the grieving process is more about accepting what your life looks like now. You will still need to listen to your feelings and adjust, but you will start to feel more whole—even if it looks different than it did before.

Keep in mind that grieving the loss of someone you love is often a lifelong process, but with acceptance, you learn to adjust to life without them physically here with you. There will still be good days and bad days, but you will start to feel more comfortable in your day-to-day life. You also will be better equipped to tolerate uncomfortable emotions—even when they catch you by surprise.

A Quick Review

When people grieve the death of someone they love, the loss of a relationship, or even the end of a job, they sometimes experience grief in different stages. However, it is important to note that not everyone experiences every stage nor will they go through the stages in the same order. Instead, everyone experiences grief in their own way and at their own pace.

That said, knowing the stages of grief can be useful in helping people understand what they are experiencing and why. If you are currently grieving a loss, it is important to be patient with yourself and allow yourself the space you need to come to terms with your new reality. If you suspect that you are struggling more than what is normal, reach out to a mental health provider for help in acknowledging your feelings and developing healthy coping strategies.

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