Loss and grief. These are words experienced by the entire human race. The loss may be a loved one, a friend, an acquaintance, a pet, or the loss of a pregnancy. However, loss can also be experienced through the termination of a job, a move, and even the normal transitions of life.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her famous work On Death and Dying, described the five stages of grief. First is denial. The person who suffered the loss doesn’t want to believe the person is gone. They feel like they are in shock and their emotions are frozen. In the second stage, anger, the feelings of the person return and the shock begins to wear off. “Why them? Why me?” are common questions at this time. The person may feel anger at the doctors, at the person driving the other car, at God, or even at the person who died themselves. The third stage is bargaining. The person may try to bargain with God in some manner. This is also the time one may start to question “What if….” The fourth stage is depression. Depression can be the result of the realization that denial, anger, and bargaining did not work. This depression can be mixed with anger and/or guilt. The bereaved may wonder what they could have done differently. In the final stage, acceptance, the person who suffered the loss resolves the loss into their life. They accept the reality of the pain, cherish the memories, and move on with a focus on the future.

The stages of grief are rarely linear. People may stay in one stage longer than another. They may circle back and repeat stages. And after time has passed, the person may even go through the stages once again when a reminder brings up the pain of the loss. So, how does one effectively get through the stages of grief after a loss? Dr. Norman H. Wright, in The Complete Guide to Crisis & Trauma, states that there are three tasks the bereaved needs to accomplish. First, bridge the past. This includes accepting the death and loosening the ties to the person that was lost. For example, the woman who lost a husband may give away his clothes. Next, the person must learn to live in the present. New roles in the family, in the church, or in society may take place. Everyday tasks such as housing or bill paying may be an issue. Old habits die out while new ones are established. Finally, find a new path. Everyday functioning provides for stability while new roles are formed and new relationships are built. These new relationships do not replace the person who was lost, but help the bereaved find a fulfilling future in terms of companionship, economic security, or maybe even a parent for his or her child(ren).

Steffani Wooley, MA, LPC Intern

Supervisor: Sascha Webb, MA, LPC-S