The grief cycle is part of the human experience. It is the emotional pain you feel when someone or something you love or value is taken away from you by death, divorce, a terminal illness diagnosis, or the loss of a friendship, job, or way of life. It is a natural and necessary response and a very personal process that should not be rushed.
Nothing that grieves us can be called little; by the external laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size. – Mark Twain
You cannot recover from your grief without going through it. Your loss needs to be addressed for you to be able to heal from the pain.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone experiences grief differently, and although there is no unanimous number of stages in the grief cycle, and not everyone experiences all the ones there are or even the same sequence, there are some commonalities.
Following are some common stages most people tend to go through as they try to make sense of what has happened and come to terms with life without the other person or the object of their loss in it.
Common stages of the grief cycle.
Shock and denial.
Your first reaction is likely to be shock, disbelief, and/or denial. Life as you once knew it has suddenly ended, and you cling to the false hope that it isn’t true. Your mind has trouble accepting the trauma and needs time to adjust to this new reality. It is not uncommon to feel as though you are having a bad dream, and everything will be normal again when you wake up.
Denial helps you survive your loss by staggering its full impact to give you time to understand what has happened. According to social psychologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, it is the brain’s way of making sure you don’t get too high a dose of grief before you are ready for the difficult feelings you must inevitably face.
Numbness.As you start dealing with your loss one bit at a time, you may feel numb. Numbness is an emotional defense mechanism that helps you survive the initial shock of the loss by protecting you from your overwhelming feelings.
Guilt and regret.
You may judge your feelings and feel guilty, for instance, if your loved one had been ill before passing and you feel relieved that he or she is no longer in pain. Your thoughts keep going back and forth over the past as you ruminate about perceived mistakes. You ask a lot of what-if questions and may feel remorseful and blame yourself for things you feel you should or should not have done.
Anger is a way of expressing your powerlessness and despair. Underneath it lies pain. Your loss may seem cruel and unfair and lead you to question why it happened to you.
You look for someone or something to blame and may direct your anger towards others, such as the person who died for abandoning you, the doctors, the hospital, your boss (if you were laid off or fired), or even yourself for not being able to prevent the loss. You may also question your faith and/or your belief in God.
You may feel overwhelmed and helpless, and be overcome by intense sadness, as the reality of your loss and its effect on your life starts to sink in.
Struggling with illusions versus reality.
You long for your loved one and have a hard time believing he or she is not coming back. You may think you heard his or her voice, caught a glimpse of him or her on the street, or expect him or her to suddenly walk through the door, even though you know he or she is gone.
Floods of grief.
Months or even years after the loss, little things like a song on the radio, a familiar smell, or finding something that had belonged to him or her tucked away in a drawer, may take you by surprise and trigger a flood of overwhelming grief.
Painful memories may be triggered by things like an anniversary or other milestone event, attending a special event without him or her, or by someone who doesn’t know he or she has passed asking you how he or she is doing.
As you begin to adjust to life post-loss, and your painful emotions start to become less intense and frequent, you start believing that life will go on. You find ways to live with your grief and make space for other things to grow around it. This does not mean that your grief disappears, but it no longer dominates your life, your interest in other things returns, and you can enjoy moments of happiness again.
You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. – Anne Lamott
Grief in the Bible.
Grief is a natural part of life.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance – Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2, 4, NIV
It is normal to mourn. There are many accounts in the Bible of people who grieved deeply at the loss of a loved one. Even Jesus mourned when He heard of the death of His friend Lazarus. Jesus wept. – John 11:35, NIV.
God understands your pain and promises to comfort you.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18, ESV
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3, ESV
An important step in overcoming grief is to share it with others.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2, NIV
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. – Romans 12:15, NIV
The grief cycle should not be rushed. In the Bible, a set time was dedicated to actively mourning the death of a loved one. Often it was seven days, which is the basis of the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva the week after the death of a family member.
When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father. – Genesis 50:10, NIV
Grief is temporary.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5, ESV
Coping with grief can be difficult, but you don’t have to struggle through it on your own. A trained mental health professional can help you make sense of your loss, help you process your feelings and navigate through the grief cycle, as well as teach you coping skills to help you deal with your loss.
If you have questions or would like to set up an appointment to meet with me or one of the other faith-based bereavement counselors in our online database, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.
Editors of Psycom. “The Five Stages of Grief.” Psycom. June 7, 2022. psycom.net/stages-of-grief.
Kimberly Holland. “The Stages of Grief and What to Expect.” Healthline. Updated May 17, 2023. healthline.com/health/stages-of-grief.
WebMD editorial staff. “What Is Normal Grieving, and What Are the Stages of Grief?” WebMD. December 12, 2022. webmd.com/balance/normal-grieving-and-stages-of-grief.
“Sunbeams”, Courtesy of Veronica Wu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “White Flowers”, Courtesy of Jaromír Kalina, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pensive Woman”, Courtesy of Mohammadreza alidoost, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stare”, Courtesy of Pelageya Golub, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this article are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please contact one of our counselors for further information.