The Stages of Grief
There is a lot of silliness written about the stages of grief. Most of it confuses the real stages of grief with other things, such as coping patterns.
The real stages are:Being Overwhelmed
. At this stage a person cycles through various coping mechanisms and emotional states. None of them work. Anger, bargaining, guilt, acceptance, depression, analysis, shock, etc. are all coping mechanisms. None of them work (or they all fail) until the force of grief is no longer overwhelming. The mind will cycle through mechanisms or just go into stunned failure because nothing is sufficient to resolve overwhelming grief.
Sometimes grief does not reach this intensity.Being Whelmed
. At this stage, coping mechanisms still cycle, but the individual is able to function, even in not always in a stable fashion. There are flashes of normalcy at this stage. Often a new coping mechanism will become the primary method a person has for coping and an old method will become broken. It is not unusual for the new method to not necessarily be the best one (e.g. a person who copes by retreating into alcoholism).Adjustment
. This stage reflects an illusion of normal life. The individual adjusts to living with loss and grief. Usually occurs at one to three years following a significant grief incident. Adjustment is marked by a person no longer cycling through coping mechanisms.Healing Work
. This stage may or may not occur. What goes on at this stage is also called grief work. Just like there is physical therapy for bodily injuries (either formal -- with a therapist -- or informal, as one exercises and is active), one can work on healing from the injury caused by significant grief. Without grief work or healing work, step five will not occur and the adjustment of step three remains an illusion.Return
. Accepting happiness marks this stage. Often the entry into this stage can happen by surprise. It can be difficult or painful to face and some people refuse it. This stage is a return to normalcy.
Note that grief events can leave permanent marks, ones that passing all five stages does not erase, only mute or incorporate into life. Death of a child or loss of a limb will generally make a permanent mark, yet people who have been through that do make a return to where they can be happy and know joy. For many, the loss of a job or a divorce can fade away (for others it leaves a permanent mark) like last week's disappointment in a football game. There is everything in between.
However, someone who believes that the stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance
(or some similar formulation or identification of coping mechanisms within grief) will not be pleased when one cycles "out of order" or when they have gone through them all and have still not returned to a normal life or only find themselves at stage three (Adjustment).
It is recognizing the actual stages, and understanding the elements of healing or grief work that will help many in making progress and in understanding how to survive loss.