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The Five Stages of Grief, Explained

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Sep 01, 2020

    The Five Stages of Grief, Explained

    There is one thing that everyone goes through at least once in their lives: grief. It happens to anyone, regardless of your social status, your gender, and your age. It can also be triggered by a variety of situations, such as losing a loved one or breaking up with a long-time partner. And having the five stages of grief explained and deeply understood is important to healing.

    Grief is said to be composed of five stages: denial, bargaining, depression, anger, and acceptance. According to experts, anyone who is grieving will go through these emotions in the grieving process.

    Depression: All You Need to Know

    The Five Stages of Grief, Explained

    Contrary to popular belief, there is no order to these emotions. Before acceptance, which is the final stage of the grieving process, a person can experience and will often move through different stages. They may even go back to a particular stage they have experienced before until they can finally accept and move on.

    For example, a person who has lost a family member could feel depression in varying stages of their grieving. Meanwhile, some might feel anger first before falling into depression, or vice versa.

    Some may also experience other emotions, such as shock and guilt, while others don’t go through all five and may skip a stage.

    five stages of grief explained

    Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first introduced the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying, which was published in 1969.

    In the book, Kubler-Ross said that grief could be divided into five stages after years of observing terminally ill patients and what they are going through. At the time, the concept was revolutionary since no one has been studying terminally ill patients and their mental health at the time. Nevertheless, it became widely accepted as time passed by.

    Here are the five stages of grief, explained. 


    Often dubbed as the first stage, denial is when the person is unable to process the terrible news they have heard. David Kessler, an expert who co-authored two books with Kubler Ross, believes that denial happens to help us survive the loss or the news of being terminally ill.

    During this stage, the mind would often deny the facts and tell us that what we heard is wrong, or there might have been some sort of misunderstanding. 

    For example, terminally ill patients might think there might have been a misdiagnosis. Or, couples going through a breakup or divorce would often tell themselves that the other might simply be angry and that everything will go back the way it was before.

    Denial happens so our brain could pace the process of our grief. It is a defense mechanism. It also usually occurs with shock and numbness, as if the world has started to make no sense.


    More often than not, anger comes after denial.

    After confirming the recent news they have received, a grieving person would often feel frustration and anger and would lash out to anyone who they believe is the source of their grief. It could be the person that brought the news, such as a doctor, or perhaps their former partner, their former employee, or even themselves.

    There’s also the question of “Why me?” that people would often ask.

    According to experts, anger is an essential part of the process and that you should feel it and let it out for the sake of your healing and for your mental health. The more you feel it and let it out, the faster it will dissipate and allow you to move further to your healing.


    Have you ever prayed or said, “I’ll do good and never complain, just please heal my family?” This is bargaining.

    During this stage, a person would often find ways to avoid or change the feeling of grief and the situation that brought it in the first place. Bargaining also is often directed to God or anyone or anything that person believes it.

    There’s also the obsession with “what ifs” and scenarios that could change or prevent the current situation.


    Perhaps the stage that dramatically affects our mental health is the depression stage.

    In some ways, this stage is a step closer to acceptance and healing. This is when you realize that the situation is real, and there’s no changing it. Nevertheless, people would often think during this time that the feeling of hopelessness will last forever and will think life is meaningless.

    In addition, people in the depression stage would often isolate themselves and will not accept help from family and friends.

    Although depression in a grieving process is similar to what you would feel when you have clinical depression, they are two different things. Being depressed when you are grieving is not a sign of mental health illness. Instead, it is an appropriate response to a loss.

    However, if depression persists for a long time, even after you have learned how to accept the situation, it might be best to consult with an expert.


    Often the final stage of grieving, acceptance is when you have finally come to terms with the situation and have accepted the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or any other challenging event that happened.

    Acceptance does not necessarily mean we are “okay” or that we can stop grieving. People could still experience depression and other emotions after accepting and understanding the reason for our feelings. At times, the process can repeat several times before we truly heal.

    five stages of grief explained

    The Five Stage of Grief, Explained: How Long Does it Last?

    Grieving and mourning does not have a time limit. Everyone grieves differently and that there is no clear beginning, middle, or end.

    And not everyone, it’s worth noting, will go through all five stages. Grieving is a complex process involving complex emotions.

    Grief could even last a lifetime, especially when the person has a strong and close relationship to the one they lost. Nevertheless, some could be able to pick themselves up from mourning or grieving fast, depending on what triggered it in the first place.

    People usually adapt to loss within six months and go on with their “normal’ life within six to 12 months. As a person adapts to the loss, grief becomes subdued, and thoughts and memories of the deceased recede into the background.

    People grieve differently, so it is also essential to keep in mind that the reason behind someone’s grief is valid. Some people feel terrible loss if they lose their job, while some would even mourn the death of a person they idolized, regardless of whether they have met in person or not.

    Grieving is natural, and it can be brought upon by a multitude of reasons. The important thing is that we understand what happens and how it could affect our wellbeing, especially our mental health.

    Grieving is natural and an appropriate reaction to a significant loss or a terrible event in our lives. Different things and situations could trigger it, but each one is entirely valid. When we grieve, our mental health is not at its best. If you have a loved one who is grieving, it is essential to be there and support them, especially in the depression stage.

    Learn more about Mental Health, here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

    General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

    Written by Kip Soliva · Updated Sep 01, 2020

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