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Does Everyone Grieve in Stages?

by Viki Kind, End-of-Life Expert
September 27, 2013

Question: My husband passed away 6 months ago and it's been a tough time for me since then as I am learning to cope with his absence. Some days I feel sad, other days I find joy in the smallest things. I thought I would grieve in stages. Can you help me in understanding this?

Answer: There are no magic words to say when a loved one has died but know that my heart is with you. The type of grief you are experiencing is very normal. Grief is very much an up and down process. We can be coping and all of a sudden in the market, we burst into tears. And at other times we can’t believe we are laughing again and then we worry that it is too soon to be happy again, even for a moment. It is okay to be happy again. It doesn’t mean you don’t still miss your husband, it just means you are finding your way through your grief and rebuilding your life.

The reason you believe you are supposed to do this in stages is because you have probably heard about Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. People thought she meant that we have to go through these stages in order but later on in her career, she clarified that people bounce back and forth between the stages, or get stuck in one stage, and for some people, they don’t experience all of these stages.

Here is what I can tell you. Grief can look like anger, sadness, denial, exhaustion, loneliness, apathy, wishful thinking; feeling lost or numb, and lots of other emotions. Your grief experience is yours and nobody should tell you that you aren’t doing it the right way. Grief also takes a lifetime but as the months go by, just like you are experiencing, we learn to cope. But we never forget or stop loving or missing the person.

If you find that your grief isn’t getting better over time, please reach out to a support group, therapist, doctor or your faith community for support.   

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Viki Kind is a clinical bioethicist, professional speaker, and hospice volunteer. Her book, The Caregiver’s Path to Compassionate Decision Making: Making Choices For Those Who Can't,” guides families and professionals through the difficult process of advocating for those who can no longer speak for themselves. She has recently launched a DVD that includes a template to create a quality-of-life statement.

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