The five stages of grief

Everyone experiences bereavement at some stage throughout their lives. Being aware of the different stages of grief can help increase self-compassion and understanding at such a difficult time. The mixture of emotions you experience can vary immensely but may  include sadness, shock, disbelief, anger, guilt and confusion. 

The recognised stages on the journey of grief often exist in the following order, although this can differ as everyone processes the overwhelming emotions in different ways.

Denial: This is when someone finds it difficult to accept what has happened and may be in a state of shock.

Anger: Feeling anger towards the situation and other people is an emotional outlet while adjusting to the knowledge that a loved one is gone.

Bargaining: This is when people consider “What ifs” and “If only” as they try and imagine what could have happened to prevent that outcome.

Depression: This stage is when reality starts to set in. Someone can feel low and isolate themselves as they process the unavoidable loss.

Acceptance: This is when a person understands that someone is gone and accepts what this means in their lives now.

You will always feel sadness after a loss, but these stages enable the journey from that initial stage of pain and overwhelming emotions to the acceptance and the acknowledgment that you can move forward in your own life. If you feel trapped in one of these stages for long periods of time, you should talk to your doctor or reach out to us here.

Life and Death

Losing someone is incredibly challenging and it can cause those who are grieving to become trapped within the circumstances surrounding that person’s death. The pain and emotions you will experience are unique to you, there is no wrong or right way to grieve and there is no timeline for how long mourning should last. 

Here are some things you may like to consider:

  • People’s deaths, often if they were sudden and happened in traumatic circumstances, sadly often overshadow their lives and the joy and memories they brought while they were here. Are you holding on to a box of those newspaper cuttings, memorial references and everything that their death is marked on? It is perfectly normal to want to hold on to anything their name is on to attempt to keep them close, but a lovely way to do this is to commemorate their lives: What are your favourite photographs, gifts they got for you, memories and stories? Remember the joy they brought and still bring as you reflect on the gratitude you have for their lives. Write a journal remembering all the happy times you shared.
  • How fortunate you are for them to have been in your life, how lucky they were that you were in theirs.
  • Are you grieving for a parent? Consider the privilege it is to be 50% of them, to be their legacy and now their representative in this world. How much they would wish for you to find happiness and enjoy your life to the fullest.
  • Are you grieving for a child? Grieving for a child can be especially challenging as it’s normal to experience anger that they didn’t have an opportunity to have the life you wished for them. Consider that they had an amazing parent who brought them into a world full of love and did everything you could possibly do for them. Their life was a gift and the time you had together was truly precious.
  • Did you witness tragic circumstances surrounding the death of someone you love and now you’re replaying that moment in your mind? Consider that those few minutes or even seconds, despite being tragic circumstances are all you remember that person by. How would they feel about that? Perhaps they would rather if you remembered them by a time they looked really smart in their new clothes before going to an event? Was it even a time they laughed uncontrollably at something you or someone else did? A time they felt delighted at something they had done or achieved? If that person could select a memory for you to remember them by, what would it be?
  • Was it an accident and you feel guilt as you think you’re responsible for the loss of someone close or could have done more to prevent it?Consider what an accident is by definition: “An incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally” With that in mind, remember that you would never knowingly hurt anyone and therefore you are NOT to blame, it was an accident.
  • Did you see your loved one pass away peacefully after an illness? Consider how comforted they would have felt because you were there, that they were surrounded by people who loved them and that although it was sad, your loved one was in the best possible environment they could have wished for.
  • It’s also important to remember that if your loved one passed away in a traumatic incident or with an illness, you are not at risk of those same circumstances. It may have applied to them but it doesn’t apply to you.


Someone’s life is about so much more than their death. While grieving is a natural process as you are saddened by their death, you can also feel joy in witnessing their life.

The future

When someone dies, it is easy to lose sight of your own direction in life, but there are ways to help cope with the pain and grief.

  • Acknowledge that grief can trigger many unexpected emotions. These may come and go without a pattern. Talking with others that understand what you are going through can lighten the load.
  • Take care of yourself physically and mentally. You may find it hard to find motivation but by looking after your body and mind, you are giving yourself the best chance to cope in a stressful situation. You might like to look at things such as your diet, your sleep pattern, your physical health or taking up mindfulness. 
  • Recognize the difference between grief and depression. Grief tends to decrease over time and comes and goes like waves. Depression is more extreme and persistent. 
  • Consider that there are friends you haven’t met yet and memories to be made: There are so many ways of meeting new people. Have you considered doing a course you always wanted to do? Is there an online community you can be part of?  These great things can happen when you have a look around or it could even happen unexpectedly when you start talking to a lovely person in public.
  • It’s never too late to start setting and achieving goals. What hopes and dreams do you have in your life? Is it a job, a bucket list holiday or your dream home? Start writing down the things you want to pursue. Have a look at our guide on how to set goals.
  • It feels good to give: The recent loss you have felt can be used to help someone else’s loss in the future. Perhaps you could write a blog or even a book to help others. You may even consider volunteering and getting involved with your community.


Living with grief can be extremely challenging but it is important to remember you are not alone. There are many bereavement support services available out there. Or you might like to consider chatting with one of our trained mentors here at Trauma Research UK

Read more…