Most people who have experienced loss have heard of the 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The thought that anyone can boil down the experience into 5 steps has always been ridiculous to me. I’ve lost many, many people over my lifetime. I’ve lost jobs, friendships, and have lost a best friend, a sister, and a father. I am not an expert on grief, but I’m an expert on my grief.
I believe there are others who have read these stages and wondered why you don’t fit in them. I have written another version; one that reflects my experience, and, perhaps, yours.
The 14 Stages of Grief
- Numbness – Time stops, thinking stops, everything stops. You find yourself arriving places you hadn’t realized you’d left for. A small but powerful part of your brain takes over and you somehow do what needs to be done, albeit nearly unconsciously.
- Blur – Time speeds up again, sort of. In fits and starts your reality and thought speed up exponentially as if to make up for the unthinkingness you’ve been swaddled in.
- Hyperactivity – You have lists, get stuff done, have everything under control, and are BUSY, people. No, you don’t have time for a hug or to sit. There are things that need doing and you’re going to do them really really fast, faster than anybody ever. This stage can last for many days with no sleep. Eventually, though, it will give over to the next stage.
- Exhaustion – While your emotion is still largely blunted, your body has stopped responding when you try to make it do things. This may be confusing to those around you who wonder why you’re asking your arm aloud to please pass you the coffee.
- Elation – This comes in under exhaustion, and is marked by inappropriate giggling and exclaiming how much you love everything. This is a sign that you are still in shock, not that you are in any way healing. Don’t let it fool you.
- Sadness – Oh, God. The sadness. It hurts in your belly, in the back of your throat. It threatens to actually tear your mind apart and drive you crazy. You want to hide from it, sleep it off, drink it off, run it off, anything. But wherever you are, so it is. Just try, try to remember to breathe.
- Utter Disbelief – As you see others going about their daily lives, or hear a song on the radio, or listen to a family member telling a story, you will have a moment – not of forgetting, never that – but of pure, sheer disbelief that this thing has happened to you. Two things may come out of this stage, depending on your personality: you may panic, or you may lapse into emotional catatonia, which is similar to Stage 1, except that time trips along nicely, you’re just detached from it.
- Rage – I always wondered why they used the word “Anger”. Rage is heat, it is primal, it is a scream, a violent visceral emotion as you rail madly against the unfairness of it all. It will burn through you quickly, and sap your strength.
- Repeat Stages 4, 5, 6.
- Loss of Faith – After you’ve realized that this is actually happening to you and no one can for the love of God tell you why, you begin to question everything. Nothing makes sense if they are gone. Nothing is really real. Nothing really matters since we’re all going to die anyway. There is freedom here, but don’t linger too long.
- Repeat Step 1 as you realize that the rest of the world is spinning away without you, that your loss hasn’t impacted anything, not really.
- Grief Guilt – This is a very specific type of guilt, a voice that tells you that you aren’t sad enough, that you’re forgetting to grieve, that you aren’t grieving as much as you should be. It will happen if you notice a cool cloud formation in the sky, or laugh at a joke. This will never completely fade.
- Restructuring – You now understand that this is real, it is happening to you, and there is not a damn thing that you can do to make it any better. This is the time that your brain will jumpstart into restructuring mode, evaluating your loss in real terms and figuring out how things will change in daily life. This is the first step toward your new life. I suppose one could call this “acceptance”, but I’ll be damned if I know anyone who has actually accepted loss.
- Resignation – This is the best most of us will ever get. In the rest of our lives, there will be joy, there will be life, but when we look back at our loss, all we can truly hope for is resignation.