How to understand and deal with your grief

It’s natural to be upset when you lose someone you care about, but not everyone experiences grief in the same way. Not everyone will have all these feelings, or will experience them in the same order. Some people might not even experience any. 

You might also see the stages of grief referred to as the Kübler-Ross model, or as DABDA, which are simply other names for the same idea.

The five stages of grief 

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
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Denial

When someone you love is first diagnosed or in the later stages of an illness, many people will feel that the situation is not real, that there has been some mistake.

It may seem odd, but denial is often an important part of grieving. You only accept as much about the situation as you’re able to deal with. This allows you the time to come to terms with what’s happening. 

Anger

Anger can come in many different forms. Many carers experience anger at the wider world for the unfairness of their loved ones getting sick, or at themselves for letting someone else become ill.

When you’re angry, you have energy and direction though. If you’ve gone through denial first, anger makes you feel a little stronger, and it’s a step to coming to terms with your grief. And remember, it’s natural to feel angry, and you’re only angry about losing someone you really care about. 

Bargaining

You might feel that if you can only change your lifestyle, perhaps by being a ‘better person’, that the situation will change for the better. It might seem that you will do almost anything to change how things are. Children in grief and grieving teenagers will often fall into a bargaining stage. Sometimes with bargaining you might also feel guilt, for example not taking a loved one to the doctor sooner. 

Bargaining is a stage that often flips into one of the other stages. You blame yourself, and then are angry. You say you’ll do something so it’ll all go away, and are in denial of the situation or get depressed. It’s like the link for you experiencing grief in its many stages. 

Depression

When you are feeling depressed, it can feel like it will last forever. You might feel empty, find it hard to concentrate and withdraw yourself from your everyday activities. 

It’s important to understand that being depressed at losing a loved one is not a sign of mental illness. It is a natural reaction to a great loss. Seeing someone get ill is a dark time, and to not experience depression would be unusual. But it can be a step to coming to terms with what has happened. 

Acceptance

When you come to accept what has happened, you are not likely to feel ‘OK’ or ‘alright’ about it. Acceptance is much more about understanding that what has happened cannot change, and that you need to readjust your life. 

During acceptance you might feel like you’re betraying your loved one. But what you are doing is rebuilding your life, going back to the relationships you might have put on hold during your loved one’s illness, and even building new relationships. 

Ways to cope

One of the most important things to do is make sure you’re looking after yourself properly by sleeping as well as you can and trying to eat as you normally would. 

Ann Scanlon, Children and Young Persons Counsellor at the Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands, says: "Remembering a loved one and finding the right way to do so can be a challenging step in someone’s journey through bereavement. I’ve worked with families to help create a memory jar, in which different kinds of memories of the special person they’ve lost are written down and shared together (or sometimes kept private) and added to the jar. Creating physical reminders of memories shared can help validate the time spent together with that person, especially for a young person."

You can find out more about Coping with grief in the information and support section of our website, or try our bereavement resources for books to help you make sense of your feelings. 

If you want to talk to someone, you can call the Marie Curie Support Line, 0800 090 2309*, open 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 11am to 5pm Saturday, and our Marie Curie Community  

*Your call may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes.