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The Five Phases of Grief and How to Cope

Loss and grief are inevitable human experiences, often associated with the death of a loved one. But both can be felt in even the most subtle of ways – a postponed vacation, diminished financial security, moving away from home, a breakup or a severe illness. The more significant your loss, the more intense your grief may be.

As a healthcare system, OhioHealth is witness to many patients and families experiencing loss. It’s why we have built the largest Grief Support program in central Ohio. Our Bereavement team conducts the program to guide people through their grief and help them protect their health through the process. So we sat down with them to learn more about what each of us can do to help ourselves in times of loss.

It’s all about you

The OhioHealth Bereavement team says loss and grief are personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; everyone grieves in their own way.

But while your experience will be unique, the feelings you have may fall into five phases. Some people go through all of them, others do not. How you grieve is influenced by many things, including your personality, your faith, your support structure and how substantial the loss was to you.

The five phases of grief

As you grieve, you may feel:

  • Denial: This is a common defense mechanism when you experience a loss of someone or something. You may be in shock or disbelief that something like this could happen, so you deny to yourself that it has occurred or wonder how life will go on. Denial will fade and the feelings you were rejecting will come to light.
  • Anger: This is often viewed as a negative feeling, but during the grieving process, anger shows the depth of your love toward who or what you lost. You may feel angry with your friends and family, the person who passed, or even God. It’s natural to feel alone and abandoned during this phase. One of our bereavement counselors shares more about how to cope with anger in this video.
  • Bargaining: This stage is full of “what if” and “if only” statements. With these statements comes the feeling of guilt. You may start to think that there is something you could have done differently to change your current reality, or blame yourself for what happened.
  • Depression: It’s important to recognize that depression related to loss is not a mental illness, but a normal and appropriate response to the loss you have experienced. Many times, depression is eased by reassurance from others. Eventually, you will realize things are not going to return to normal and that your loved one is not coming back.
  • Acceptance: In this phase, you will come to accept your new normal and realize that it is here to stay. Acceptance does not mean you are all right or OK, but that you recognize you can’t continue to live like you once did and must start to readjust. You may still have some bad days, but there will be far more good days. You will start to live your life again, but more importantly, you will enjoy it. You can’t replace what was lost, but you can move forward with making new connections, meeting new people and finding new things to make you happy.

The process of grieving should help you learn to live with the loss you suffered and adjust to your new life – one of purpose and meaning. Just be patient. Grieving appropriately takes as long as it needs to take. For some, learning to live with loss happens quickly, but for others it may take years.

The OhioHealth Bereavement team has put together a video series to help you through times of loss. It can help you:

And if you would like to sign up for a support group or need more information, never hesitate to reach out. WE are here for you.