Grieving to healing – Stages of grief

  • By Dr. Neha Agrawal

Paulo Coelho says, “Tears are words that need to be written.”

Sadness is an emotion known to all. An extension of sadness is grief. Grief is an emotion of extreme and intense sadness and is often a result of a specific event or occurrence.

Situations that leave behind grieving sufferers could range from a break-up to death. A mother unable to believe his brave son has martyred in a war, that’s grief. A father, shocked and wounded by his daughter’s accident, that’s grief. A cancer patient, in her last stages of the disease, is fearful, that’s grief. A child, lost and torn during his parents’ separation, that’s grief.

Grief has many forms and many faces. Every individual has his/her own story. And, each one’s way of responding to the situation is different. Yet, there are similarities and a pattern can be drawn from everyone’s reactions.

Grief starts with pain, but don’t let it kill you. Give it time, you will heal and life will be bright again.

A renowned psychiatrist and researcher, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is known as a pioneer on this subject. She gives five stages of grief.


To deny is to refuse acknowledgement of the facts. We don’t want to believe it is actually happening to us. We think, it is okay, all is well, this is just a bad dream, it will be gone if I close my eyes. We want to run away from reality. We are scared of the pain that may follow if the worst fears come true. We don’t have the strength to face the troubles. We just wish and pray that things remain normal. This phase is temporary. It is not possible to keep the eyes closed forever, sooner or later, awareness comes in. There may still be cases that remain in denial for a prolonged period of time. Some help from dear ones and professional intervention is all that is needed.


“Why me?” Once we pass the stage of denial, awareness hits. And, the hit is quite bad. The first reaction is – why? “What did I do to deserve this?” “I have always been a good person, then why is this happening to me?”

Such questions disturb us and trouble us. Unable to find a rationale or reasonable explanation behind the situation, we feel cheated, we feel angry. The object of this anger may be anyone – self, others, even God. If the anger is self-directed, some people may try to harm themselves. If the anger is directed at others, especially close ones, they may have outbursts and may try to cause hurt. However, it is simply the intolerable pain that is making the grieving person behave this way.


Closing the eyes to the situation does not work. Being angry does not change anything. So, we try to do something about it, we try to change the present circumstances. We try to bargain.

How often have you seen family members praying outside an operating room? A husband may say, “I will quit all the bad habits and will never fight with my wife, please just make her well.”

During a divorce, a child might feel he is the core problem and he prays to God, “I will never trouble mom and dad again, please take us back to good old days.”

A grieving mother says, “I pledge all our money to charity, just bring back my son. Tell me it was a mistake.”

Rationally, we may sit and explain how these factors are not linked together, how a husband’s smoking will not affect the outcomes of his wife’s surgery, how a child’s little tantrums are not the cause of lost love between the parents, or how charity money will not make a dead soldier alive. But it is an individual plea bargain, a last resort, a final call to change things, to not let the worst happen.


The bargaining almost never works. This is the time of total resignation. We tried our best. We negotiated, we bargained, we wanted to make things better. But we could not. So, we give up. All hope lost, we resign ourselves to sadness and gloomy thoughts. Hours and hours of crying, reclusiveness, loneliness comes in. This is when true realization of the event occurs. You start knowing that denying, being angry or bargaining has not changed anything. The worst has happened. This is the reality. We face it and we remain in a world of sadness.


Time does heal. Finally, comes the stage of acceptance. The tears start drying up a little. We don’t feel as weak anymore. A small ray of positive sunshine starts brightening up our minds. We want to believe that we will be okay. We tell ourselves, “I can handle it; it is going to be fine.” We know the external situations are not in our control and we did what we could. Now, it is time to move forward and be strong. This is a new beginning.

Yes, it is easier said than done. To move on after a painful episode is not this simple, but it is possible. If you can believe it will be okay, trust me, it will be okay.