Initially, denial enables us to cope with the loss of a loved one and survive the shock and pain related to the ordeal. During this phase, we choose to mentally live in our preferred reality instead of our actual reality. However, this stage is a crucial aspect of the process. When we start to overcome the shock and denial, we finally start to live in our actual reality and experience the emotions we were keeping suppressed till now. This is how the healing begins.
As denial starts to wear off and we begin to accept the reality and the accompanying pain. But as we are not ready to let these intense emotions engulf us, we try to redirect and deflect our emotions from feeling vulnerable to feeling strong through anger, according to the Kübler-Ross model. Anger can manifest in various ways. We may feel angry at God, doctors, ourselves, the deceased loved one, friends or family, strangers, or even inanimate objects. Anger offers us strength when we believe there is no reason to carry on anymore. When we feel lost and don’t have any purpose to move on. Hence, our anger may manifest in the most unusual ways and in the most unexpected situations. We may even feel guilty for being angry. Unfortunately, this can lead to more anger. But we need to remember that this is a natural process and we must acknowledge all our emotions, even anger.
We believe that anger may be a more openly expressed and socially acceptable emotion than feeling depressed, vulnerable, or afraid. We distort our pain and fear into anger. It gives us a sense of strength to openly express our feelings without being afraid of rejection or judgment. Although denial may be a survival mechanism, anger is considered to be a masking effect. It helps us to hide our true emotions and put up a bold face, despite being hurt and in pain. However, anger does not necessarily mean aggression or rage, it can also manifest as frustration, resentment, irritation, and bitterness.
When we begin to realize that anger is not the solution, we will begin to bargain. We begin to negotiate with God, the Universe, divine power or even ourselves to make things like they were used to. To take death away. To go back to the way of life before the tragic event. Bargaining is a natural response and acts as a coping mechanism against the feeling of grief. It’s when we try to come up with various alternate scenarios inside our minds. We start making several “if only” and “what if” statements. Bargaining enables us to delay the emotions of pain, confusion, and sadness.
During this phase of grief, we know we are helpless to do anything about the situation and we are still unable to accept the loss of our loved one. So we focus on a higher power to request or pray to them in the hopes of a different outcome. We also start to emphasize our own mistakes, faults, and regrets regarding how we could have changed the outcome, even though it wouldn’t have made any significant difference to the loss. Yet we think about our interactions and behaviors with the deceased loved one and mentally note all the times we could have treated them better. Bargaining is a way to protest the helplessness we feel in the tragic reality.
Feelings of depression arise due to feelings of helplessness and being powerless in a terrible situation. Unlike anger and bargaining, depression is a rather quiet stage in the Kübler-Ross model. Depression can be a natural emotion when coping with a terminal illness or the loss of a loved one. During grief, depression may refer more to a deep sadness than a mental health problem. We may become isolated and withdrawn, yet feel lonely. However, this stage can actually help us to cope with the tragic event. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that depression is beneficial or easy to deal with. Depression is perhaps the worst and most difficult stage of grief. It can affect our mental wellbeing, lead to negative emotions, chronic low moods, and alter our behavior. Depression can be overwhelming, making us feel confused, heavy, and disinterested in life.
This phase is considered as the beginning of a strongly perceived and deeper form of grief where the individual starts to understand and realize the seriousness of their reality. Depression occurs when they realize that the reality is lasting, irreversible, and real. It is closely associated with grief and is common with people who are grieving. It is a manifestation of the emptiness someone feels when they realize a loved one is gone forever and this is the reality they have to live in.