Spoiler alert: Your grief will not follow any predetermined order. This is not a bad or uncommon thing. Each of us responds to an emotional change in our own way. In addition, we live in a society that does not like to talk about death. So, think about it. No two people follow the same script. And even if they tried, there is no script when it comes to bereavement.
Even so, this is not a bad thing. A person who is mourning needs room to feel whatever they need to feel. Laying things out in a predetermined blueprint can stifle this need.
The Stages of Grief
While there are now lists that include seven or eight stages, these are the original five in their original order:
Denial gets a bad rap but it has its purposes. In this instance, some level of denial is required to cope with pain and shock. In healthy doses, denial numbs us enough to prevent grief from overwhelming us. You must only let in what you can handle.
Once denial eases, suppressed feelings emerge. One of the strongest emotions is anger. You’re mad at the world, mad at yourself, and maybe even mad at your loved one for dying. Can you feel both denial and anger at the same time? Yes.
In a way, you’re back to denial here. You want to go back in time. Do things differently. Make promises to a higher power that you’ll do better and be better. “If only” becomes the saddest refrain. And, oh yeah, it can also make you angry.
Under most circumstances, depression is a disordered state. But, when a loved one dies, it’s natural to feel depressed. In fact, it’s so natural that it’s often the first stage.
You’ll be told to “get over it” and “move on.” Acceptance is different. It is more about learning how to live differently in a new reality. You find ways to enjoy your life despite holding grief in your heart. With your loved one gone, you might even play a new role in the world. Reaching the point of acceptance won’t prevent you from sliding back into denial or anger. It’s just a reminder that you will eventually discover another way.
What To Do When Grief Stages Don’t Go in Order
The first step is to not blame yourself — or blame anyone, for that matter. Grief is a tricky ride and the list of stages exists as a companion. It’s not a template. Keep in mind:
- The stage of grief do not go in order
- You may or may not experience all of them
- You can experience more than one stage at the same time
- Some stages will come and go until you’ve processed them
- Be Patient: You may feel pressured to “move on” but you cannot rush an emotional process.
- Practice Self-Care: Maintain a regular sleep routine. Make healthy eating choices. Get some kind of physical activity or exercise each day. Cultivate relaxation techniques (deep breathing, meditation, yoga, etc.).
- Be Creative: Express your grief through some type of creative activity. Also, consider creating new rituals and traditions for yourself and others who are grieving this loss.
- Confide in Others: Express your grief to trusted loved ones. Join an online or in-person support group. Talk to a mental health professional (see below).
Therapy is a Proven Path
You do not have to push through this alone. Especially if the stages have you confused, it makes sense to talk with someone who understands. I’ve worked with countless grieving clients and I can also help you make peace with this situation. Let’s talk soon so I can help you with grief counseling.