Understanding the Grief and Loss Cycle

By Dr. Perry, PhD

“The whole world can become the enemy when you lose what you love.” ~Kristina McMorris

The cycle of life is both beautiful and heartbreaking. From the moment of our birth, we share a common destiny with the rest of the world. The mortality that connects us makes life that much more remarkable. Knowing that death awaits us and our loved ones may be a haunting and difficult thought to bear. Truly, one of the most difficult and painful moments of a person’s life will be the death of a loved one. At these moments, grief is a normal and healthy response to loss. For some, the death of a loved one will result in overwhelming and devastating emotions that cannot be fully processed alone.

The loss may affect the ability to function in everyday life and may lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. With the help of a mental health professional, a person can learn to cope and accept the death of a loved one more easily. The ideal goal of therapy should be to help a person return to their daily life with renewed hope and appreciation for life. The widely and universally accepted approach to the acceptance of death was introduced by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross and later was adapted to the stages of grief. These 5 stages serve as a framework to help a person process what they are experiencing and is not meant to dictate how one reacts to the death of a loved one.

The 5 Stages of Grief are:

1. Denial
A person will feel shock, denial, and life will cease to make sense. They will simply try to make it through the day. The feelings of numbness allow a person to slow down time in order to process the loss at their own pace. Once a person finds acceptance of death they can begin the healing process.

2. Anger
At this stage, a person feels angry. They might be angry at God, family doctors, friends, themselves, and perhaps even toward the loved one who died. Under this anger is the pain of loss. Anger is an easier emotion to feel and express than pain. It is important to feel the anger completely in order to let it dissipate and begin to heal.

3. Bargaining
Prior to death, a person might attempt to bargain with God to have their loved one healed. They will be willing to do anything. Upon the death, they might continue bargaining in order to be awoken from their bad dream. They may desperately want their old life to return. They may even be living in the past, desperately wanting their loved one back. They might experience guilty thinking about what they could have done differently. They will continue to bargain to have their unbearable pain lifted from them.

4. Depression
At this stage, a person is painfully in the present and fully aware of their loss. They may withdraw from life and experience intense sadness. Depression is a natural and appropriate response to the loss of a loved one. It is important to note that the deep depression experienced at this stage is not a sign of a mental illness. It is a reaction to the realization that their loved one is really gone and not coming back.

5. Acceptance
At this stage, a person is able to come to terms with the reality of their loss. It does not mean they are okay with the loss, it simply means that they accept the reality that life must go on without their loved one. They will start to have more good days than bad and begin to re-engage with life. There may be feelings of guilt associated with living life without their loved one. They must not let guilt keep them from moving forward and finding new meaning in life.

The above stages are meant to serve as a framework. It is important to acknowledge that a person is not expected to go through the stages in a linear fashion or to experience a stage the same way as someone else. Everyone experiences death in a personal way and there must be flexibility in the approach to healing.

It is my belief that there is no “right” way to grieve. The complexity of human emotion means that no two people can grieve in the same way. There is no allotted amount of time for grief. The role of a therapist is to accompany a grieving person through this difficult journey. They can help by gently and patiently guiding them towards processing the death of their loved one and re-engaging with life.

I hope you found this helpful. If you have questions or are in need of support please click here.

Dr. Perry

“We specialize in a solution-focused approach to psychotherapy, specifically treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues and narcissistic abuse.”
Verified by Psychology Today

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65 responses to Understanding the Grief and Loss Cycle

  1. Quirky Books says:

    Great post Eric. I have a friend who lives in another city and she is still grieving for the loss of her boyfriend a year later. His exact cause of death was investigated and concluded recently. She is a single mum in the UK and can’t afford therapy and so far has not received counselling. I have suggested NHS counselling to her and a voluntary organisation that I used to go to years ago.

    When I go to see her, she seems to just need lots of hugging the most. She is still working part-time, but not so enthusiastic about life and she can’t get out much because of her daughter with no child care and not many people to look after her when she is not in school. I think she is still finding it hard to cope. It’s hard for me to know what questions to ask her and what to talk about, because I think she wants to talk a bit about it, as she has already. And I find it is mostly me asking her a bit about how she is feeling, how things have been, then the rest is about what I am doing with my life as she is not doing much. When I feel she probably needs to talk more. What can I do about this and to help her more?

    Liked by 3 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi, the best thing you can do for your friend is to continue being supportive and allow her to grieve at her own pace and in her own way. As she processes the shock and pain of her loss she may decide to share more. The important thing is to continue being her wonderful caring friend ✨

      Liked by 5 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Sheena, I hope you are doing well. I am so happy you found this blog helpful✨ have a wonderful day!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Erica Herd says:

    The grieving process is a complex one. My husband was killed last September in an automobile accident–we were driving to Georgia to start a new life. I was in horrible shape the first 2-3 months, joined a grief support group for widows and widowers, which was extremely helpful. I also started seeing a therapist and am currently seeing a new one who specializes in PTSD. I encourage anyone who has experienced great loss to seek therapy, although, like anything else, it may not work for everyone, I suppose.

    Liked by 6 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Erica, I am so sorry for your loss. Please know that by sharing your journey of healing you are helping others who have experienced loss. Thank you so much for your comment. If I can be of any assistance please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.✨

      Liked by 5 people

  3. Christina Meadowcroft says:

    Thanks for posting this! My husband’s identical twin took his life almost two years ago and, while I have found my therapy through yoga and meditation (and therapy), my husband and his parents are still struggling and are “not the therapy types.” I watch every time we visit as they continue to be overcome with grief at anything and everything, and I feel helpless to help them. I have learned, though, that the key to helping them to wherever it is they are going, is to let myself grieve through my own process. My in-laws tried a support group at first, but were taken aback when others there had their own issues to deal with which my in-laws believed weren’t as important as their own, and thus, they have steered clear. They see where I am in my own process of healing and I often feel like if they could just do what I do, that they would find their way. We all know that’s not true, so in the meantime, I focus on my yoga and my meditation to process and work through and beyond my grief. My own journey may not have begun without losing my brother-in-law. I am so grateful for your post. Thank you so much. Namaste.

    Liked by 5 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Christina, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. I believe we are all connected and by sharing our pains and triumphs we can inspire others in the similar situations. Perhaps one day your in-laws and your husband will be ready to move forward and you will be there ready to guide them. Have a wonderful day ✨

      Liked by 4 people

  4. I also used the assistance of a death doula…supportive in integrating life with death….rituals made the experience meaningful and took away fear….happy a good day ~ smiles hedy 😀

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Bipolar Mom says:

    It’s sort of fitting that I came across this post today. You have explained the 5 stages of grief very well. I also think it’s important to mention that grief isn’t linear. This was definitely helpful for me today though.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. The F Word says:

    It can be so hard to let people in when you suffer loss. In the past, like a typical Brit, I very much just dusted myself and kept up appearances, when inside I was breaking down. I’ve only ever lost one person in life, and that’s my younger brother, which was terribly hard. And didn’t happen until I was 29, so I wasn’t sure how to process grief. I’ve learned a lot since then and therapy is definitely helpful for me!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. You can also grieve from the loss of someone still alive. I know I’m living proof going on three years now. There has not been one day that I haven’t cried on my knees. I went to therapy for 3 months, three days a week, he told me I was experiencing the same trauma as someone with PTSD, but not actually seeing a experience, but the grief sometimes never leaves. I have experienced death of two husbands, but it was nothing compared to this person who is still alive. Grief comes at any age any time. Glad to see your site. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Z. says:

    Thank you so much for reminding folks that there is no set time, and going through the stages of grief doesnt mean that the grieving is done… its just being able to move another step in what becomes a new direction. I really appreciated the post. Thank you~

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Singledust says:

    Eric this was timely. I suffered a great lost in August, something that will stay with me forever, even words can’t heal. Though there is so much to read and find comfort in, ultimately we need to do it all on our own, with strength and determination to honour the one we lost forever as long as we live.

    Liked by 3 people

    • MakeItUltra™ says:

      Hi Gina, I am so sorry for your loss. If there is anything I can help with please let me know 🌸


  10. juliehcares says:

    I think I am still in the anger stage. It’s been 4 months and I still cry easily reading stuff like this. It is nice to have someone talk about it though. Thanks

    Liked by 3 people

  11. stellrstar says:

    I am beginning to accept that a cat named Bubba will not just walk around some corner of my house, and there he will be. This post is very meaningful to me, especially the part under ‘Acceptance’ where you emphasise that we do not accept the death, but accept what has in reality happened, and that life must continue. I remember that when I first was told that Bubba had passed away, all that I wanted was for my life to pause. I remember thinking, “Wait! But I need him. I cannot go on without Bubba.” I am gradually accepting that I can go on, because he is alive in my imagination.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Think have felt all 5, with the loss of my dad last Christmas but now reallise his presence all around us, especially when visit my parents home – personally think this could be what the soul is. For me also there was disbelief that his life had ended and that he had left everything he cared about – mainly my mum, behind. this is for me is the hardest thing to understand

    Liked by 2 people

  13. annj49 says:

    Hi, my husband passed away 11 years ago now. I was numb for a year. I was supported in many ways by a man i met after my husband passed away. He became my “safe” person for the next few years. I did not know it st the time, but I see that looking back now. He was just “there” for me. It was very helpful.

    It took about 5 years before I recognized the depression and was able to deal with it in a meaningful way. Then came a small bout with cancer. Then lifestyle changes. Exercise, nutrition, counseling, all helped me to recovery.

    Writing was and is my best form of therapy. I created a memorial page for my husband that has basically served its purpose with pictures and memories. I keep a blog on many topics. Acceptance came slowly but it came. It took 10 yrs to enter into another relationship.

    When I think grief has finished her work, she surprises me and comes knocking suddenly at my door, like this morning. Wow…..devastating. It’s as fresh as ever. But my recovery is fast. I have tools. I wrote on this here:


    Thanks so much for sharing the details of this grief process…….and for emphasizing that it is different for everyone.

    People will be helped….


    Liked by 4 people

  14. aprilbenji says:

    I’m currently working through my own grief. This week has been hard both personally and professionally as I navigated through my responsibilities. I did appreciate how you define each stage. I am just trying to understand grief better since this grief is totally different than anything else I have experienced.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a great post! I am writing a memoir on my journey through grief . It is such a personal journey for everyone dealing with it, but my hope is it becomes less of an action in isolation because of the stigma associated with it. We need to be there for our loved ones who are lost in grief when they need us, and know it’s not something that is going to pass 2 weeks or a month after the funeral. It’s a long journey.
    Great topic and well written !

    Liked by 3 people

  16. nessgrateful says:

    It’s been 7 years since my brother was killed at the age of 24. Although it’s no longer raw, I’m now experiencing new feelings as I’ve just become a mum. I’ve written about this on my own blog which led me to this. Very true, thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Such encouraging lines…I myself am going through the recovery phase of depression and this uplifted my mood….thanks a lot for this post😊 And once again..thanks Dr. Perry for such a wonderful post😊😊

    Liked by 2 people

  18. An excellent post. I had a serious car crash in my early twenty where two people whom were close to me were killed. it took me 30 years to get over my grief and l went through all the phases described here. Only recently [November 2017] have l finally accepted the loss, that l was not to blame and finally l have moved on. Doctors suggested l had a form of PTSD which combined with my Aspergers made the grief process very hard to manage. I can accept some of that, but also it was an awful tragedy to deal with.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. catch2223 says:

    Dr. Perry, thank you for this post. I lost 3 close loved ones last year, and it seems like I’ve cycled in and out of the stages for the past year. My faith keeps me strong, and I use the good memories to remember what they taught me. Your upfront description is better than the canned list you get in psychology classes. You made it seem very common and very survivable.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. rogerholmack says:

    It’s been 21 months since my 20 year old daughter died. I’m grieving deeply still. I’ve been in and out of those stages many times. It’s very personal. I participate in group therapy and online chat so I do have help. Something that is very important for the grieving because it is overwhelming. Thank you for posting this.

    Liked by 4 people

  21. I just lost a friend and my aunt to cancer within 3 days of each other last week. This is such a hard time and I’m feeling some of these stages in pieces. Right now it’s anger.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Hollie May Beeston says:

    Beautiful and extremely accurate post Dr. Perry. The ending about acceptance resonated with me on many, many levels.

    I lost my father at the age of 3 and have recently published a blog on my experience and what my loss has taught me throughout the years. A lot of what I say is extremely positive regardless of my loss.

    This was not just a therapeutic act of expression for me, but I am also hoping it will positively reach out to others who have grown up with a similar experience and make them feel less alone, as well as serve as an eye-opener for those who have had no insight into the traumatic loss of a parent. I really believe that this will help others understand that acceptance of such a loss is in fact not as impossible as it seems. And like you said – it doesn’t mean we’re okay with the loss, we have just learned to accept the reality.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. nabomitadas says:

    I lost my father 6 years ago and so much had been going on with us even before that. I still had more struggles to battle and stay strong for my mom. I could little digest the grief of not being able to see him again and never could I weep my heart out in the process of being strong.
    Now that I am married and responsibilities have changed, I realize the absence of my father more now than ever. There is denial, fear of losing loved ones, numbness and the lack of interest in a lot of things. It is weird how our emotions function and how many different ways grief can creep into our lives.
    Thank you for this great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Beautifully said. There is no right way to grieve, no specific formula to follow, and no time constraints that a person should feel imprisoned by. Grief, like healing, is individual, just as unique as the person experiencing it.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. rothpoetry says:

    The grief process is really very difficult…. I love the quote at the beginning. This is one reason why we have so many insane incidents in the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Sara Mathew says:

    Beautifully put…gone through those stages 11years back and in probably the exact order. What I learnt is ” what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger ” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I can understand all this on an intellectual level but I still can’t cope with my emotions 4 years on; I haven’t been angry and I didn’t bargain. I still don’t know if I’ve accepted what happened. I do all the things that we are supposed to do to move on with our lives but………I don’t know, just but….

    Liked by 1 person

  28. delsenboisen says:

    Thank you Dr Perry for this share. It is a life’s journey and challenge to deal with such situation in life. The change in life of the loss of a loved one is a permanent change.
    We all need support in all ways possible to live each day.
    Once again thanks for this blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

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