We can look at the stages of grief with its strong emotions that come and go as natural responses to loss. Grief itself is a very strong emotion. To transition from these heavy feelings, we must understand that our emotions are trying to help us cope and learn how to move forward again.
Our feelings come from our soul. They speak to us so we can understand ourselves better. Grief brings about a deep introspective process to help us recover from loss, change, and trauma and helps us identify what we value.
In our fast-paced world full of influences and language that says, “Be positive,” “Don’t cry,” “Keep up the good work,” and “Don’t be weak,” grief’s language of sadness, pain, and heavy heartedness says, “You must take the time to honestly look into your heart,” “Where there is sadness, there’s also great love,” and “Let the pain show you what you need more of.”
Regardless of the exact message you hear, remember, it’s OK to move at your own pace as grief naturally will slow you down. Which is actually the point. In fact, as you move through your grief, you will cycle through very distinct stages, which I discuss in the coming paragraphs.
One important thing to keep in mind is that just because you go through one stage, you don’t automatically graduate from it. Meaning, you can move between the stages at any given time, depending on the triggers in your life. But first, let’s discuss what the stages of grief are so you can put a name on how you might be feeling and know it’s entirely natural.
What are the stages of grief?
Traditionally there are between six and seven stages of grief. Each of these feelings gives us the time and opportunity to understand how our soul is processing the change in our life and learn how to slowly put the pieces back in order after the loss or change has occurred. Although these traditional stages represent some of the common experiences of people who grieve, there may be more or less emotions for you. We all grieve differently, and there’s no right or wrong way.
The goal is to process your grief while, at the same time, allowing yourself to move through these other heavy emotions. As I said earlier, and it deserves repeating, these stages don’t always happen one after the other; they can come and go. Some will be a trigger to deeper pain or trauma. Others will be duller. Regardless of how grief presents itself, all of the stages are working on your behalf to return you to love and peace. The stages are as follows.
1. Shock or Disbelief
Although you feel a lot of pain, there also might be times when you feel numbness or dullness. Too many feelings at once can result in an overall feeling of overwhelm. The energies are mixed up, intense, and can be physically disorienting.
This is the soul’s natural defense to falling or breaking apart into pieces. The soul wishes to remain in control, to keep things the same, as it begins to feel out of control.
The numbness, confusion, and feelings of unreality buy you some time to prepare for the grief to come. The soul’s desire is to live in a different reality. Often it will create one that avoids the truth.
Denial is a form of resistance that happens when you’re not ready to grieve. It helps you to survive the loss by trying to maintain things as they were. Grief can be overwhelming, and the shock of a big change can make you freeze or go numb. Denial helps you to cope temporarily with the intensity of the situation.
Many of us don’t know how to grieve, and denial is what we are used to. Our mind is really good at denying the truth to avoid pain of any kind. Denial will keep the grief buried deep. However, if grief builds up over many years, it can turn into distressing physical symptoms and emotional outbursts of rage and anger.
Anger serves as an attempt to protect yourself from any more harm that has been caused. Often, this emotion masks other feelings such as sadness, resentment, betrayal, and rage.
After the initial drain of energy caused by shock and denial, anger brings with it an increase in energy to fight the injustice you may feel. Sometimes anger is used as a source of power so that you can move forward and not get lost in an extended period of helplessness and sadness.
Anger seeks to provide protection and honor while attempting to increase our ability to have more courage and power. The energy that anger gives us can then be used to move forward into more avenues of self-love.
Bargaining is a line of defense against the barrage of emotions that come with grief. It helps you postpone the sadness, confusion, or hurt you’re experiencing. It’s another form of resistance.
During grief, you can become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. You may look for ways to regain control or ways to feel like you can affect the outcome of an event.
During grief, you long for life to be returned to what it was. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if only” conversations cause you to find fault in yourself and what you “think” you could have done differently. You may even bargain with the pain. Desperation can set in, where you will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss.
During the bargaining stage, your thoughts may return you to the past, where you try to negotiate your way out of the hurt. What’s really happening is the soul is negotiating with the heart to eventually reveal a softening and a beginning to accepting the inevitable.
Guilt comes after some acceptance of the loss. You may find yourself judging or blaming others and or yourself. During the guilt stage, there’s a continued loss of energy as you begin to gain more acceptance of the unwanted reality.
In an effort to take action or responsibility, guilt looks inward for an explanation. It’s your guide toward truth. Guilt is an inner compass that seeks to use mistakes or situations to teach integrity and authenticity.
It can also help you look forward to a new way of being. It does so by using a process in which you reflect on your values, facts, and personal truth. As resistance melts, guilt helps you to take responsibility for your part and develop more trust in your future self.
The depression stage is one of accepting a certain powerlessness around the situation. Apathy, low energy, and a sense of giving up or surrendering to reality may result in a sense of hopelessness. When this happens, you can feel there’s nothing you can do at this point to make things better.
However, depression comes at the time when you need change most. The way you have been avoiding the situation or the feelings associated is clearly not working. The only way to resolve the helplessness you feel is through surrendering into acceptance of deeper feelings and of the truth.
Depression seeks a period of rejuvenation after the exhaustion of resisting and fighting the many unaddressed emotions that come with grief. Depression asks you to look at what you’re resisting or holding onto, and what you may need to accept and let go of to make room for something new. Depression seeks to help you find optimism and a willingness to accept that which you cannot change.
7. Acceptance and Hope
Grieving adequately and successfully results in acceptance and eventually restoration of hope. This stage comes after the grieving, pain, anger, sadness, and being emotionally and physically exhausted stages, and cycling in and out of them, subside. When this happens, you’re ready to give up trying to resist or keep things the same. You’ve come to understand what grief means in your life now.
Acceptance isn’t necessarily a happy or uplifting stage of grief. Much to the contrary; acceptance is marked by highs and lows that lead to a very gradual affirmation of a new way of life and possibility for good things in the future.
Christ-centered meditation and prayer can help you move through the stages of grief.
To not be completely overtaken by the intensity of grief, we can learn to spend a certain amount of time with ourselves accepting and releasing these emotions. I’ve found meditation and prayer to be one of the most beneficial spiritual practices to keep the heart open and feelings flowing. I personally use a Christ-centered meditation and prayer practice to process and release my feelings.
In the Bible, it says that Christ lives in our heart as a Divine spark of life, and as we learn to turn toward that Light and trust in Him, His love and His life will grow inside of us. I’ve experienced this to be true. “Then Christ will make his home in your heart as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Eph. 3:17)
When we turn to Christ inside of our heart, we become aware that all of the virtues of God are inside of us. These are called the fruits of God’s Spirit because God’s Spirit is Christ in our heart.
Inside of us is a source of powerful energies that help us transform anything dark or heavy into light, love, and new life. Christ is known as “The Healer,” so we have a built-in system for self-healing. This means we have access to peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, joy, self-control, and unconditional love.
As we seek and find these healing energies, we develop new pathways or circuits to God’s Spirit. Christ can help us heal. Hence His names, “The Spirit of Truth,” “The Counselor,” and “The Helper.” Through Him, we can access a higher power, wisdom, and understanding.
To begin a Christ-centered meditation and prayer practice, find time to be alone with God. Become still. Breathe deep and slow. Relax. Close your eyes, and go inside. Go only as deep as you feel comfortable.
Thoughts, feelings, and desires will get your attention immediately. This is your soul seeking you, wanting you to value yourself and love yourself. Whatever comes up, allow it to be, and continuously return to the love of Christ in your heart.
Start slow. Spend three to five minutes. Make sure you’re in a place where you feel safe, where you can be with your feelings and emotions. Remember, you’re in control.
Sometimes it helps to have nice music, a candle, a journal, a Bible, or a devotional nearby. I created meditation music and scriptural contemplations to help me sit patiently with God.
The goal is to allow for the flow of your truth to merge with the unconditional love of Christ in your heart. He promises to give you new life and help you to let go of the old. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
I always end with a prayer. This is the time to thank God for all of my blessings and challenges. I admit or confess where I’m struggling. I ask for help, and I also pray for others. Sometimes I hear God’s voice giving me clear directions, and sometimes I don’t.
Even so, I know God is with me each time I sit alone with Him, and I walk away healed in some way. “I am loved with an everlasting love and nothing can separate me from it.” (Rom. 8:38-39)
We’re all humans who feel emotion. The stages of grief we move through are natural reactions to loss. If we don’t feel the pain, we might not strive to return to love and joy.
It’s possible to give up before we learn the benefits of grief. When love, peace, or joy are lost and we don’t acknowledge that truth, we may default into an alternate reality. Or we may become addicted to things that numb us and keep us away from reclaiming our right to have more abundance in the forms of love and peace. Which is never what God would want, and why He’s always available to us in our times of need.
If you would like to learn more about how to improve your life through an approach of feeding the whole person, body, soul, and spirit, follow me on my blog, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn, and Medium. If you would like to work with me, schedule a session today.
Tonyah Dee has studied the Bible and wisdom traditions of the world for the last 30 years and teaches about finding ways to increase inner strength, stability, and confidence through practicing spiritual disciplines and healthy habits daily. Tonyah is a nutritionist, registered dietitian (R.D.), and earned her B.S. from Loma Linda University. She also holds certifications in Christ-centered life coaching, equine therapy, and meditation. Tonyah has been published in Scary Mommy, MSN, The Mighty, Mantra Wellness, CoveyClub, Thrive Global. Follow Tonyah on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Medium.