Grieving the loss of a loved one is a painful but normal part of the human experience. While many often cite Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief as one common way to understand the process that happens after losing a loved one, Kübler-Ross was clear that her stages were relevant only to those coming to terms with their own impending death. When we have lost a loved one, another model for understanding the grief process may be more relevant: The Four Phases of Grief, proposed by British psychiatrists John Bowlby and Colin Murray Parkes.
- Shock and Numbness: This phase immediately follows a loss to death. In order to emotionally survive the initial shock of the loss, the grieving person feels numb and shut down.
- Yearning and Searching: This phase is characterized by a variety of feelings, including sadness, anger, anxiety, and confusion. The grieving person is experiencing a longing for the deceased person and wanting them to return to fill the emptiness created by their death.
- Disorganization and Despair: This phase is marked by initial acceptance of the reality of the loss. The grieving person may experience feelings of apathy, anger, despair, and hopelessness. The person often desires to withdraw and disengage from others and the activities they regularly enjoyed.
- Reorganization and Recovery: In the final phase, the grieving person begins to return to a new state of "normal." Intense feelings such as sadness, anger, and despair begin to diminish as more positive memories of the deceased person increase. The person may experience regular energy levels and weight will stabilize (if it fluctuated during other phases).
Important Things to Remember:
- Everyone’s grief process is different. You may experience all of the above in this order, in a different order, some phases not at all, etc. You may feel that you’ve reached phase 4 and then circle around to phase 2 again.
- There is no right or wrong timeframe to experience grief. For example, you may feel you are in phase 2 for several days, weeks, or months, or not at all.
- Grief is a process. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. You’re not alone.
- For more resources on grief visit: www.colorado.edu/ova/death
Bruce, C.A. (2007). Helping patients, families, caregivers, and physicians, in the grieving process. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 107(12 Suppl 7):ES33–ES40.
Parkes, C.M. (1998). Bereavement in adult life. BMJ. 316(7134):856–859. doi:10.1136/bmj.316.7134.856