Understanding the Grieving Process

During our life time we all experience a loss at some stage and often an individual may experience multiple losses at the one time. A loss may be due to the death of a partner, child or parent. It may also be incurred due to ill health, disability, the ageing process, rape, miscarriage, theft, fire, war or other similar disasters; the list is endless (Phuket Gazette, n.d). Regardless of why the loss has occurred, the onset of such an event will bring with it a grieving process. The intensity of our feelings and our ability to cope with these losses depends on various factors which include our degree of attachment to the person, object or circumstances, whether or not the loss was expected and the person prepared or not and whether or not the person had any control over the loss or if it was involuntary and against their will (Phuket Gazette, n.d).

When we grieve the process involves us having physical, emotional, social, (Elderhope, 2001; web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d) spiritual (Elderhope, 2001) and cognitive (web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d) reactions to our loss. The grieving process is not one that requires us to follow through progressive stages in certain orders. It is a process whereby we may revisit many of the stages more than once (Mintle, 2005).

According to various models of grief, the grieving process may encounter a various number of stages of grief. For instance Elizabeth Kubler- Ross developed a five stage model of grief (dying.about.com, 2005). The five stages that Kubler-Ross identifies are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Bear, 2004). However Healing Hearts for Bereaved Parents (2005) identifies the grieving process as having 6 stages and identifies them as denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, Depression and Hope.

The model of grief outlined here has five stages similar to Kubler-Ross’s model and the Seasons of Growth model of grief. The stages related to this model are shock / denial, searching / yearning, disorganisation / depression, reorganisation / recognition and acceptance / hope. This model provides key elements that directly relate to the various stages of grief that each individual experiences at some stage as they work their way through their grief.

The first stage is shock / denial. This usually occurs immediately after the loss has occurred and this particular stage can be revisited many times as we work our way through our grief (Healing Hearts for Bereaved Parents, 2005b). It involves a feeling of numbness (Healing Hearts for Bereaved Parents, 2005b; web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d) and an inability to accept the loss. It can last for a period of time as short as a few hours or for as long as a few weeks’ months or much more. This is often a time when the grieving person will feel paralysed and isolated or even deny that the loss has occurred (Slap-Shelton, 2005).

The second stage is searching / yearning involves the grieving person being pre-occupied with the person, item or circumstance that has lead to the loss. They often experience reactions such sensing the person, dreaming about the lost person, item or thing. It is during this stage that the individual is likely to pine for their loss and feel a deep sense of anger, irritability, sadness, guilt or fear as they yearn for what has been taken from them. At this stage the grieving individual is susceptible to weight gain, physical illness, fatigue and pain (web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d). The grieved person may experience feelings of anger with the world and with their god or higher power as they try to come to terms with their loss (Slap-Shelton, 2005).  It is during this stage that the grieving person experiences the pain of grief and is supported in coming to terms with their loss (The Seasons for Growth International Office, n.d, p.1) by those around them.

The third stage of disorganisation / depression involves the need for the grieving person to learn new ways to begin to live their lives in order to regain control. It is within this stage that we often see the grieving person learning new skills and different ways to cope with the changes that have occurred within their lives. The grieving person often feels muddled and disorganised, as they grasp at incorporating new ways into their lives (web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d). Depressive thoughts are often encountered as the grieving person begins to acknowledge the loss as real (Slap-Shelton, 2005) and begins to accept the impact that it places on their life. During this stage the grieving person is supported in coming to terms with their loss (The Seasons for Growth International Office, n.d, p.1) by others within the wider community.

The fourth stage involves reorganisation / recognition of the loss. This stage involves the grieving individual being able to fully recognise the loss as real (Slap-Shelton, 2005) and involves them utilising any new found skills and coping mechanisms they may have developed in the disorganisation / depression stage in order to move forward with their lives. “This phase overlaps to some degree with the third phase (Acor.org, 2001)” and therefore can be revisited many times.

The fifth stage is called acceptance / hope. This stage is reached when the grieving person has acknowledged the loss as real and been able to now see hope in their future. It involves them being able to look beyond their loss in order to establish a new meaning to their life. This stage can still involve outbursts of emotions from the grieving person, such as crying or sadness, however it brings with it a sense of increased happiness (web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d) and improved outlook towards one future. This stage often incorporates the ability for the grieving individual to increase ones social involvement with others in order to establish new meaningful relationships. During this stage the grieving person learns to reinvest their emotional energy (The Seasons for Growth International Office, n.d, p.1).

“For the bereaved, the models of grief work can serve both as compasses which show the direction of your path at a particular time, and as topographical maps revealing the landscape of grief’s highs and lows. For the counselor, therapist, and friend they can provide useful insights into the process of bereavement (Slap-Shelton, 2005).

Grief work usually involves the need for the grieving person to work through three main tasks in order to reintegrate successfully back into the world. “These tasks include emancipation from the bonds of the deceased [or loss], readjustment to the environment from which the deceased [or loss] is missing, and formation of new relationships (Acor.org, 2001).”  The fives stages within this model of grief tackle these issues and work towards addressing the three tasks required to move forward with ones life.

This model of grief is effective in explaining the grieving process as it covers the main aspects that a grieving person goes through. However it is important, as stated earlier, to recognise that not every person will travel though the stages as outlined, they may skip a stage and come back to it later or revisit a stage that had previously been worked through (Mintle, 2005).

Grieving is a process that every individual will encounter at some time during their lives. To successfully work through and overcome the physical, emotional, social, (Elderhope, 2001; web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d) spiritual (Elderhope, 2001) and cognitive (web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d) reactions to our loss, we must work through our grief. We must acknowledge that the process of grieving is a healthy and needed response to any loss and that unless we are provided with the social support and tools required to deal with such loss and grief we can not effectively deal with the many emotional, spiritual, physical and cognitive reactions that we encounter.  The five stages of grief outlined within this model of grief serve to provide a basis on which to acknowledge and gain an understanding of the processes that a grieving person will experience. They are not set in stone and therefore do not require the grieving person to follow through the stages in any particular order, but strive towards an understanding of how a person grieves and can be used by others to identify the stage at which a grieving individual may be at.

Just like no two individuals are alike, neither is the manner in which they tackle their grieving process. The individual, just like Loss and Grief: Dealing with Death and the grieving process itself is full of complexity, which affects the manner in which they encounter and work through the stages of grief. The model of grief outlined in this assignment is therefore aimed at creating a greater understanding of the grieving process and the stages that an individual will encounter. It recognises that as we grieve the individual may revisit any stage and also that they can encounter them in a variety of orders. Regardless of how one grieves and the order of the stages they go through, this model recognises that there are certain steps that must be achieved in order for a successful outcome to eventuate from the grieving process.


Acor.org, 2001. Phases of Grief. [web site] http://www.acor.org/cnet/306750.htm Date Accessed: 4th July 2005.

Bear, J., 2004. Stages of Grief. [web site] http://www.cancersurvivors.org/Coping/end%20term/stages.htm Date Accessed: 2nd July 2005.

Dying.about.com, 2005. The five Stages of Grief. [web site] http://dying.about.com/cs/glossary/g/g_5Stages.htm Date Accessed: 1st July 2005.

Elderhope, 2001. Grief is a process. [web site] http://www.elderhope.com/e_class/new_grief/grief_5.html Date Accessed: 19th June 2005.

Healing Hearts for Bereaved Parents, 2005. Grief Stages. [web site] http://www.healingheart.net/grief.htm Date Accessed: 2nd July 2005

Healing Hearts for Bereaved Parents, 2005b. Shock / Denial. [web site] http://www.healingheart.net/denial.htm Date Accessed: 2nd July 2005.

Mintle, L.S., 2005. Physical and Emotional Grief Reactions. [web site] http://www.christianity.com/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID4820%7CCHID103349%7CCIID836254,00.html Date Accessed: 19th June 2005.

Phuket Gazette, n.d. Coping with Loss and Grief. [web site] http://www.phuketgazette.net/pdf/Coping%20with%20loss%20and%20grief.pdf Date Accessed: 19th June2005.

Slap-Shelton, L., 2005). The phases and tasks of Grief Work. [web site]  http://www.selfhelpmagazine.com/articles/loss/phases.htm Date Accessed: 9th May 2005.

The Seasons for Growth International Office, n.d, p.1. Theoretical Framework for Seasons for Growth. [web site] http://www.goodgrief.org.au/about/what.html Date Accessed: 20th June 2005.

Web.vet.cornell.edu, n.d. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: Stages of Grief. [web site] http://web.vet.cornell.edu/public/petloss/ekr.htm Date Accessed: 16th June 2005.

This Articles was written in 2005 by Keren.

Keren has a Bachelor of Health Science (Leisure and Health) and is currently studying in her final semester for her Graduate Diploma in Ageing and Pastoral Studies. Keren is a Leisure and Health professional and a qualified Diversional Therapist and over the last 18 years she has worked extensively in aged care, child care, youth programs and the health care sectors.

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