When a Loved One Dies: The Five Stages of Grief

man grieving

By Patricia LaCroix, Contributing Writer

To live also means to die. As is often quipped, no one is getting out of this alive.

Sadly, this means that we all are faced with our own mortality as well as the end of the lives of those we love dearly. As a family caregiver, the day most likely will come that you will survive the person for whom you are providing care.

When someone we love dies, we are faced with a litany of feelings. Back in the 1960s, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her book “On Death and Dying,” explored these emotions, identified them, and categorized them into five distinct stages.

By anticipating these stages, you’ll can help yourself be prepared for them if and when they arrive and deal with them effectively as each stage comes.

The five stages of grief

These stages of grief were originally created in light of what a terminal ill person goes through upon learning that they are going to die. However, they also can be applied to people who are grieving for a person who dies, as well as the grief of other losses in life.

The five stages of grief are:

  1. Denial/shock
  2. Anger/frustration
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

While Kübler-Ross described the stages in her book as occurring in what appeared to be a linear, step-by-step progression, she later noted that, while all these stages exists, those who mourn and grieve don’t necessarily go through them in any particular order.

Nor does it mean that, once experienced, you will never go back into that stage. Certainly, people who have mourned the death of a close loved one can and have repeated stages at various times in their lives.

A possible sixth stage

For many caregivers, there is often also the feeling of relief, which tends to be accompanied by guilt, that occurs when the care no longer needs to be provided. The caregiver is relieved to no longer have to give care, which might have also induced feelings of mental and physical stress and strain. But by the same token, the caregiver never wanted to see the loved die, and yet, this is the exactly reason why the relief has come about, leaving the caregiver to feel guilty about the relief now being experienced and perhaps even enjoyed.

This mixed bag of relief and guilt can also occur when a family caregiver hands off care of a loved one who is alive to someone else, such as a paid professional. It’s also not usual for the the person specifically receiving the care to deliver the guilt trip to the family caregiver.

Ways to experience the relief while combating the guilt include mental reminders on the part of the caregiver that the death of the loved one is not his or her fault, and in the case where a loved one’s care is passed to another caregiver, that the loved one is mostly likely being cared for in a much better, more complete way by the professional.

Grief is personal

It’s important to note that grief is immensely personal. No one grieves that same way. The five stages of grief are purely a theory. While some may experiences these five stages as prescribed, others might not. Don’t be dismayed if you fail to experience some of the stages or if you experience them in an order you didn’t predict or foresee. More important is that you seek and receive the adequate support for the stages you do experience, while you are in the midst of that stage.