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Get Real About Grief

Posted on March 25, 2021

Grief is a complicated - and often misunderstood - emotion.

There is no right or wrong way to experience grief because every person and every loss we experience is unique.

What is grief?

By its most basic dictionary definition, grief is deep sorrow.

In more detail, it’s a natural reaction to loss or change. Losing someone can be one of the most drastic life changes a person can experience. It’s both a highly personal and very universal experience. Collectively, we can experience grief. This is the reason wakes, funerals and memorials are often a part of the healing process after someone dies.

They open-up an avenue to share in grief with others who are experiencing the same thing.

It’s worth noting that grief isn’t exclusive to the death of a loved one. We can experience grief when losing a job, a relationship, a pet or when missing out on a cherished event.

The stages of grief

Although there is no manual for understanding our own grief, psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined a model for the concepts of grief and loss. In her book, “On Death and Dying,” Kubler-Ross examines the most common reactions we experience after the death of a loved one, and the sequence in which they often play out.

The five stages of grief are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Let’s explore them each individually below.


When you learn about the death of a loved one, your first reaction is likely shock. Shortly after, you may begin to think, “How could this possibly be real?” You might be unable to imagine life without this person. You have trouble accepting the news right away.

This is one of the protections the brain uses to guard against grief.

As reality sets in and things like funeral planning begin, denial often fades away. Interacting with members of your family and friends, comforting each other and sharing in grief also helps with the impulse to deny.

Face this stage head-on by:

  • Sharing your feelings of denial with others
  • Acknowledging the loss to yourself, whether internally or aloud


Grief is a painful feeling. Often, feelings of pain give way to anger.

You might be feeling angry at yourself for being unable to prevent the loss. Or, you might feel angry at the person who died. You may just feel a type of general anger, unable to direct it at anyone or anything in particular.

Anger is often accompanied by feelings of self-pity - which can bring about more anger. You may feel like an injustice has taken place, or that the loss is something happening “to you”.

You can overcome anger by:

  • Taking a bit of time away from situations or events associated with the loss to practice self-care or do things you love.
  • Practicing deep breathing when you feel especially angry.


The death of a loved one comes with a feeling of lost control. Bargaining is a way to feel like we’re partially regaining control.

This is when your mind drifts to thoughts like, “If only I had done this” or “If I had helped this person at this time.” You start to bargain with either yourself, or some sort of external entity, to try and regain control of the situation.

You can help overcome bargaining by:

  • Talking to others and explain your patterns of thinking. Often, they’ll have a similar story to tell.
  • Being patient with yourself and reminding yourself that although guilt is natural, you are not at fault.


Depression is a word with many different meanings. In the case of a loss where you experience grief, this may be closer to situational depression. Situational depression is different from clinical depression in that it is short-term and brought on by the grief and stress of losing a loved one.

Depression caused by grief is a feeling of deep, immense sadness. It’s a natural, appropriate response to loss. Typically, it’s temporary.

This is where the reality of death sets in and you enter the early stages of acceptance. The sadness can be intense and lead to symptoms such as tiredness or listlessness, confusion or difficulty forming thoughts, absence of appetite and inability to experience joy from things you otherwise would.

You may combat depression by:

  • Attempting to re-establish a routine.
  • Eating nourishing foods and getting exercise, even if it’s just going for a short walk outside
  • Talking to others, or seeking professional help


Accepting a loss doesn’t mean you need to stop feeling sadness. There is no deadline to stop feeling sad.

Acceptance is more about acknowledging and understanding the loss. We all come to acceptance in our own time, and acceptance may be phased in different ways. For example, you might choose to open-up to just a few people about the loss.

Acceptance doesn’t mean you’ll never experience any of the previous stages of grief again. But, they may lessen over time as you accept the loss. The beauty of acceptance is that it can come with hope. The hope that you’ll someday feel less consuming sadness and that time will help heal your grief.

Additional stages of grief

In some schools of thought, there are really seven stages of grief.

Those additional stages are shock and testing.

In this sequence, shock is the first. This is the initial surprise and impact of learning about the loss of a loved one. Often, it gives way to denial.

When you experience shock, you may feel numb or paralyzed. It’s difficult to form thoughts. Your first thought might be, “This can’t be real.” That’s when stages like denial come into play, though the effects of shock may take time to fade.

Testing is the second-to-last phase, before acceptance. This is where you begin experimenting with ways to cope with the loss. Internally, you might find new ways of talking to yourself about the person you’ve lost, or test new patterns of thinking.

You might try talking to a professional, finding a new way of memorializing your loved one or take up a distracting, enjoyable hobby. There are no prescribed ways to test.

What is normal?

When it comes to grief, there is no “normal.”

And there is no timeline for the stages of grief. Be kind to yourself and understand that everyone experiences grief differently. It’s an essential part of loss and healing.


Author(s): My Coda's Editorial Team

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