Does grief really have stages and if you work through them are you over it?

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When my marriage collapsed and dark emotions ran rampant, it was a comfort to me to learn that I was in a state of shock and grieving, similar to what one goes through after someone has died. The intense feelings I had were a normal part of grief with its supposed stages of shock, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. It helped me to know that I would pass through those stages. In fact, I made an aim to accelerate through quickly. I felt that if I got to the last stage – that of ‘acceptance’ – then the pain would go away.

How wrong I was.

I wrote a lot about those stages. I felt that I did progress through them but I never did reach a state of ‘acceptance’, where I felt that what happened had to happen. I did eventually ‘acknowledge’ that it had happened which was a turning point of sorts, understanding that my marriage belonged to a past world. In reaching that point however, of acknowledging my past life was gone, the pain did not simply go away. In many ways I had simply reached a beginning point, of learning to make my way in my changed world, with a new today, and a different future. The intense grief I had experienced was just the beginning of more pain for me.

Apart from my marriage there were other losses I mourned in the grief process such as the loss of my intact family and the loss of my financial security. Even now – over four years later and well over that grieving process – it is the here and now that is difficult, being a single mother and grandmother, and trying to make it financially with a bruised asset base. It is the practicalities of keeping on going another day, in another way.

In my case the stage theory seemed to work because I kept pushing myself to get through the stages. However, I can see now that it could have been a draw-back if I had thought any ‘stage’ (sadness for example) would magically pass and I would simply move onto the next stage. It didn’t happen like that for me. In fact I was so scared that I could become ‘stuck’ in a stage if I did not work to get through it, that I continually took steps to deal with the feelings I experienced, and learned to acknowledge my changed world of today. I do not know whether it really helped me doing that … or whether I would have simply passed through those stages regardless … or even whether I could have got through less painfully if I had simply let them happen, rather than trying to wish them away.

Another draw-back of the stage theory is that the stages can return again and again (although often with less intensity each time). By that I mean that I would seemingly get over an intense feeling such as anger or sadness and then that feeling would return. This is quite normal and yet when it first happened to me I thought there was something wrong with me. Once that happened it led me into a downward spiral of low moods and a new intense pain – the pain of feeling bad about myself, that I was not doing very well. It was only the voice of a dear friend who one day said to me ‘this is normal’ (what I was feeling) and ‘you are normal’ (how I was behaving) that brought me out of that deep dark chasm.

So here I am enjoying my new world of today (and I truly am) and looking forward to my exciting future (honestly I am) … but sometimes there is still that lump in my throat, that pain in my chest, that catch in my breath, and that intense feeling of loss.

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33 thoughts on “Does grief really have stages and if you work through them are you over it?

  1. It’s always a risk, when you try to systematise a think like grief or loss – there are stages, but they aren’t linear. Events, memories and other things cause us to move back and forth through those stages. But eventually, eventually, it eases. I wish you joy with your day, and your future.

  2. Yes it’s normal to go through these stages numerous times. I’ve been through it many many times. And it’s draining. But like you said, each time it comes back the intensity is much less. Until I guess it dissipates by itself…one day

  3. I remember reading your process Elizabeth as you went through it and what I was in awe of was your capacity to be conscious of what was happening, and to recognize it was, ‘a stage’ — I think in that recognition there is great power. It says — now is not forever — which in the throes of grief can be hard to see sometimes.

    It is fascinating to me how in moving forward, the ‘pulling back’ still happens — fortunately, its frequency and loudness decrease. I too think that is normal. What is also normal is our capacity to recognize the pulling back as simply that – a pull. It is not a calling to release everything we are today to give into the past’s siren’s call once again.

    • Thanks for your support. I learned a lot through your posts along the way in a similar theme, that on occasions you would be drawn to the past and write about your dark days (in your previous relationship) and then you would return to the present and continue to do positive things. So that helped me understand two things; firstly that it was OK to sometimes reflect on the past and even feel down about it for a while; secondly to return to focus on who I am and who I can become in the present and future – and strive to make that the best that I can. Thank you šŸ™‚

  4. Beautifully written and with so much insight! I find myself going over many emotions in my transition to retirement and just about getting older. I think I have got the hang of it and then I feel that I have made no progress at all! Take care – you are not alone šŸ™‚

  5. Thanks for sharing this so openly here. I can relate to it. I, too, experience that the journey is more like spiral, circling forward. On the spiritual journey in general, one has to deal with many losses. It seems to be part of this process of the identity shift. Part of this shift is just stripping away former attachments and that is painful. These days, grief comes up for me massively again. I, too, wonder whether this will ever cease and and when it will be over.
    Best wishes for your journey,
    Karin

    • Thanks for your support and this inspirational comment. I agree that it is the breaking away of former attachments that can be the hardest thing to cope with after a personal crisis or major change in one’s life.

  6. A day at a time, and accepting that the grief and regret sometimes just never goes. We have sun and rain, both are just here and now. The snippets of joy do also come around and oft when least expected.

  7. This is when we learn that life isn’t linear and doesn’t fit in to models after all. šŸ’›
    Each of us has to experience it in our own way.
    It seems to me to be a never ending evolution through ups and downs.
    Keep learning and enjoying the ride Elizabeth! xo

  8. We are complex creatures, aren’t we? Complex in our own individuality and how we cope with crisis; believe me, I know.
    But your honesty here is part of how you are dealing with these challenges, mainly because you are being honest with yourself. It will help you come out on the other side of this with integrity.

  9. Someone should have shared the way a trigger memory could send your life into a tail spin. Life isn’t perfect as a single person but to me focusing on how it wasn’t as “good” as the past seemed to be. Really “seeing” with honest eyes helped me to forgive and move forward.
    Now, I am trying to paint my days in positive “firsts” which may never have happened before my last divorce.
    You know, I lost my house where every room was hand painted and decorated by me. But now, my oldest daughter decorates similar fashion with different flourishes. It is like a “newer” version of me. šŸ™‚ My son replicates my favorite meals; only updated with healthier touches. My youngest daughter picked up the baton and is trying to make us all go to new places and try new activities together, rather than dwell on past ones. Hugs to you, Elizabeth. I appreciate your sharing, trying and going through setbacks.

  10. Allowing our true feelings to be felt and released as they arise, always helps me through my grief. You are understanding who you are and what you need more and more Elizabeth and each day is different for us all. Being with what is, always helps me move into a place of acceptance. Great post.

    • Accepting those true feelings and riding along with them is one of the hardest parts to cope with sometimes. Yet I am finding accepting them is easier now than fighting against them.

  11. I’ve learned that those feelings are a form of ptsd from having experienced a trauma in our lives. Something comes along and triggers the intense feeling we learned from the past trauma and when we recognize this we can move our thoughts in the direction of just letting it go and not holding onto the feeling. My own opinion is it doesn’t entirely go away and we learn how to not let the feelings influence our present life. Good to be back following your posts, Elizabeth! šŸ™‚

    • Yes, I can see that. I also read where you can learn to put another ‘good’ feeling into your mind whenever the ptsd trigger happens. That does work to a degree. Thanks for your support.

  12. After two operations on my intestines, I have a big scar down my tummy and it’s all a slightly different shape from what it used to be. I shall certainly never look good in a bikini! But everything inside is working as it should, and I have no pains or problems with it. Similarly, all the pain and suffering from the ending of my marriage has left scars, but they have healed and though my life is very different from what it would have been, I have no pain or problems to bother me from those events. Time does heal.

  13. I believe in the wave theory. And the surf subsides as time goes on. But it doesn’t mean a whopper of a wave of grief won’t take you down when you least expect it. Here’s to pulling out that surfboard.

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