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The Process of Loss


Loss is a part of life and we all will experience many losses as we navigate our journeys. Loss comes in many guises; it is not only the death of a loved one. Loss can be the dissolution of an important relationship, having to move from a beloved family home, losing a part of your life to illness; almost any life transition is accompanied by a sense of loss. Loss and the grieving process go hand in hand, and grief is something one should not try to side-step. It is an essential part of being able to move on from the loss, and if you don’t allow yourself to grieve, you could end up with psychological and physical health issues later on.


In her book On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross posited fives stages of normal grief. They need not occur in any particular order, and most often people in grief will move back and forth through the different stages. But all grief is a highly personal and individual process, and there is no timetable for it. Each person will grieve in his or her own time, and in his or her own way.


The five stages of grief are:


  • Denial and Isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance


In denial and isolation one is not accepting the reality of the situation. Often this feeling makes the person feel isolated and alone, or causes him to isolate himself from others. It is important in this stage that you try as well as you can, to be with your support system – loved ones, friends and family – and that you talk about how you feel as openly as possible. If you need to seek professional help, do not wait. Get it.


With anger, your feelings are deflected because the pain of the situation is too much to bear, and anger is the result. People who aren’t in awareness of this stage, often take their anger out on loved ones or others, getting agitated and losing their tempers easily. But anger is a more active stage than denial, and puts you on your path towards acceptance.


In bargaining people go through the “if only’s”. If only I had gotten a second opinion, if only I had said “I love you”, if only I had gotten help earlier. The “if only’s” can drive you nuts if you aren’t careful, and is also another way to not have to feel the actual pain of the loss.


Depression is the beginning of dealing with the pain. You could be depressed over more practical matters, like costs and bills, and then you get depressed because you know you must say goodbye and let the situation or person go. This part of the depression stage is more individual and private, and comes along with deep reflection, memories, and deep sadness. It is normal to feel this for months, but if it goes on for too long, get professional help. Sorting through your feelings, which can be very complex, may need a fresh set of eyes.


Acceptance does not come to everyone. Some people are never able to move out of denial and anger. The ability to make peace with the situation is sometimes hard won, and not everyone gets there. Give yourself time and don’t be impatient with yourself. The grieving process can be quite protracted, and there are no time limits.


Loss and grief are necessary parts of living a full life, and knowing something about them, can help you to cope a little better. The process is personal, and will take longer for some than others. But there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and you may move back and forth through the different stages a few times before you come to some peace. Journal about your feelings, talk about them, even paint or draw them. You don’t have to be an artist to be creative in your expression of them. And in the end, getting your feelings out will ease the pain and speed up the process.