The Stages of Grief based on my study and experience can come in any progression of the following. You may find you experience these in no particular order and may repeat one or more of them throughout your season of grief. These stages are provided as a tool, a guide, and not a pattern of any sort*:
Stability – The period before the bad news is received. What we deem to be normal, the time immediately preceding the loss.
Shock – Immobilized by the loss you have suffered you feel paralyzed to respond to it.
Denial – The temptation to avoid the inevitable realization that you have indeed suffered a loss.
Anger – Frustrated, this stage brings an outpouring of bottled up emotions.
Bargaining – Seeking in vain for a way out of the loss, trying to work for or negotiate a safe place.
Depression – When you have exhausted yourself by denying, bargaining and venting your grief, then comes the lull of depression. It seems to come at the moment when you have absolutely nothing to invest in your season of grief.
Finding Meaning – You begin to seek realistic solutions to your grief in this stage. This is where you begin to realize you may never “get over” your loss, but you may indeed find a place of healing and hope as you find your season of grief ending.
Acceptance/Hope – When you come to the end of your grief season, you will find that there is finally peace with which you may indeed feel free to move forward in life. Never forgetting, but also no longer discouraged by the loss you have suffered. Hope and Acceptance usually bring meaning to suffering as well as healing. Though there seems to be a new “normal” in the early stages of grief. It is when Acceptance and Hope begin to work in your life that the “new normal” is actually realized.
I’ve read and learned much about the stages of grief in my journey after Justin died. I harnessed these nine stages from a grief site called Healing Hearts and “Redeeming the Tears” which is a group Bible study by Serendipity House Publishers. I took the title of the stage and summarized it’s impact in my own words. Widely there are only about 4 to 6 stages of grief recognized by both the Christian and the secular worldviews; however, the following list of stages indicates what rings true to my own experiences and grief – even stages I continue to work through to this day.
The thing about grief that I have found to be most true would be that it pushes us to do something when we don’t feel like doing anything. Direction and understanding seem to be the keys to navigating grief with any modicum of sanity, and even then it feels like we’re steering a sinking ship. I can only imagine the weight carried by the crew and captain of the Titanic as they sat helplessly unable to steer their passengers to safety while the enormous ship and its passengers slowly sank into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It is, indeed, how I feel at times. These are the times when I must find the balance between despair and hope, the sense of being both lost and found all at the same time.
In the last two years, as I have begun to make my grief journey with other grieving parents I have found three things to be true:
1.) We all may have similar experiences and hearts that miss our deceased loved ones. Yet, each of us must find our own way through grief and each of us will progress through the stages of grief differently. Sharing a grief journey should never involve comparison, but instead it should be directed as a means of learning together how to manage the very difficult sea of emotions and longings that come with grief.
2.) The stages of grief are more of an outline of experiences rather than a carved in stone pattern for grief. These stages outline the common experiences of people who are suffering and working through grief. Some may experience them all in order, and some may experience only a few of the stages and then find themselves at a place of healing. Wherever you find yourself, grief must be dealt with. The consequences of avoiding grief for a long period of time tends to be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually devastating.
In addition, grief is intended to be a season that with time progresses us to a place of healing. That is why the work of grief is so important. Allowing ourselves to remain in a particularly comfortable stage of grief (such as denial or bargaining) tends to lock us into a perpetual state of grief that is hard to undo. It creates a heart filled with hopelessness and despair. And, it is said that there are those who grieve themselves to death. You know animals who have lost a companion whether human or other animal will often by instinct grieve that loss – often times to death. Human beings have the unique capacity to choose their path in grief, and we by virtue of intelligence have the ability to seek life rather than death. It is a choice each person must individually make.
3.) Healing is possible. With God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26; Mark 9:23; Mark 10:27). I have heard parents talk about enduring grief as if there is no end to it. And, in some respects that are things about my son’s death that will never end for me. I will never stop missing him or the things we did not get to do together. Those things will come up from time to time as my life wains on. However, as time has passed and I have sought God in my grief – something marvelous has happened… I have found a place to live again. Not as one wearing the grave clothes of death, but as one redeemed from death to life by the God who loves us so. For us grief begins with death.
For God grief began when we became lost to Him. Our sin brought about grief for God. (Genesis 6). God was so grieved that the end result was the physical death and suffering of His Son. My faith in God must outweigh the loss I suffered for me to experience His comfort, His mercy and His grace otherwise my grief becomes an idol as I choose to nullify the healing power and promises of God for my life.
“Healing is a choice.” As they often say and have written about at New Life Ministries. We may not choose the circumstances that lead us to grief, but we must indeed choose to make that journey.
Sorrow does linger for a time, but joy will eventually come. The experiences and knowledge that becomes confirmed in us about God through that grief experience makes it worth the trip no matter how much it hurts. As you consider each stage of grief and what you are currently experiencing in your personal journey.
You may find it helpful to find Scriptures that talk about your stage of grief. For instance, if you are suffering from “hopelessness” in the depression stage, then look up Scriptures that talk about hope. If you are angry, look up Scriptures about how to deal with anger. If you are asking why – read the book of Job, or a few of the Psalms that begin “O Lord how long with you forsake me?” or something of that nature. Cry out to God, pray through your path and watch God Work miracles in your heart, your soul and your life through death and loss.
* Again, this is not medical or psychological advice and not intended to be a substitute for any necessary professional or pastoral care you may need in your grief. If you feel overwhelmed at any point in your grief you need to seek the advice and care of a professional doctor or counselor as well as your pastoral ministry at church.