The 5 Stages of Grief

When a loved one dies, you may be disconsolate, in shock, and devastated — all rolled into one. At Dolan Funeral Home in Chelmsford, MA, we understand the impact a death in the family can have. We are here to help with all your funeral home needs, from start to finish, so you can focus on being with your family and the grieving process. Contact us today!




These five stages of grief were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. These stages are universal and affect everyone no matter what culture you’re from: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. These will be different for everyone, but overall you may experience a period in all these stages. Know that this is a normal part of the healing and grieving process.


  1. Denial. Immediately upon hearing of a death, especially an unexpected death, denial happens. We block out the knowledge and pretend it didn’t happen. When the death finally sinks in, we lose ourselves in the world and our place in the world. Life loses some of its meaning as we struggle to find our place without that person in it. We may enter a period of shock where numbness takes over and anything that happens to us — good or bad — has no meaning. You question everything while in this denial period. Furthermore, you are at your most vulnerable in this stage to being taken advantage of, especially from scammers.
  2. Anger. There is no shame at being mad at what has occurred, especially if the death of your loved one was an accident. Anger is a natural human emotion that can ground you in this time in your life. You may be angry at others, the one who caused the death, doctors, or at God or any other deity you may worship. You may even blame the loved one who died because you resent him or her for leaving you alone in this world. Then you’ll feel guilty over feeling such a thing. Anger is a symptom of the pain you feel, which will lead to grief. The angrier you are at the death of a loved one, the more intense your love for them. Don’t try to suppress it, but do try to find a healthy outlet for it rather than blowing up at Aunt Martha who showed up in a pink dress at the funeral. Exercise, particularly one that involves a punching bag, is cathartic.
  3. Bargaining. “If only…” or “what if…” marks this third stage of grief. A desire to go back in time and change things — change events that may have led to a tragic death, change our last words to our loved one, and change the death itself — becomes prominent. You start to believe you may have contributed to the death, and start blaming yourself. You live in the past in this phase, oblivious to what is happening around you and virtually incapable of planning for the future. It’s one day at a time. You may even progress to negotiating with the pain that you feel, wishing for it to end.
  4. Depression. Completely normal and a phase of grief almost everyone experiences, feeling sad, questioning the meaning of life, and wondering how you will move forward are normal responses. Life can hold no meaning and feel empty, especially if the space your loved one used to occupy. Activities you used to do together and the places you used to go together can seem barren and even odious to you now. Note, there is nothing wrong with you, and most of the time you do not have clinical depression. This is a necessary part of healing even though it may feel like your life has ended. Taking it one day at a time is all you can do in this stage and knowing somewhere in the back of your mind that this stage will pass with time.
  5. Acceptance. Realizing that life without your loved one is your new reality is the hallmark of this last stage of grief. This in no way makes the death of your loved one okay. In fact, you may never feel okay about the loss. You realize that you have to go on living, and it’s learning how to live without your loved one. This will take time as well, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about this. You won’t “bounce back”, and you’ll still have rough days, like for instance when you have to have someone else do household tasks that your loved one normally did. It’s okay. Don’t fight the process and allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you feel. Gradually, with time, you’ll begin to live again. Try to do this without feeling guilty that you are still alive and your loved one is not. Instead, know in your heart that your loved one would want you to move on, to enjoy a cup of coffee with friends, a vacation at the beach, and a ride in a hot air balloon.


It’s important to remember that these are general guidelines to the stages of the grieving process. Everyone grieves differently and you may jump in and out of stages repeatedly or even skip a phase altogether, and that is okay. Everyone copes with grief differently as well. You may find yourself sobbing uncontrollably or you may internalize your grief. Below are tips to cope with your grief:


  • Seek out others. Even though all you may want to do is be by yourself, you’ll need others around you to offer words of wisdom, to comfort you, or to just be present while you cope. Let them make you a home cooked meal, buy you groceries, and pick up your kids from school. That’s why we have each other to lean on in times of need.
  • Focus on self-care. Even though you may not feel like eating, you need to eat. Even though you may not feel like going to the gym, you need to exercise. Many turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain and to not feel the emotions of loss. This is not only detrimental to your health but also will only delay the natural healing process you need to go through.
  • Remember the good times. Reminiscence often about your loved one. He or she will always live in your heart and your mind, and remind yourself often that you are a better person because of his or her presence in your life.
  • Rely on your faith. When doubt creeps in, turn to faith. Know you will see your loved one again.
  • Allow yourself to grieve. Grief is necessary to healing. Feel the emotions, and don’t deny them.
  • Seek professional help if need be. Therapists are specially trained to help those going through the stages of grief and are trained to equip you with the tools to heal.


Dolan Funeral Home in Chelmsford, MA, serves the greater Lowell area, including Tewksbury and Dracut. As part of our aftercare program, we can assist you in finding help with your grief through appropriate support services. Our mission is to help you through the grieving process. Anytime you need support, please call us. Dolan Funeral Home cares. Contact us today!

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