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Five stages of grief

By Jim Killackey, Staff Writer Modified: November 17, 2008 at 6:51 pm •  Published: June 29, 2008
When Donna Boyd’s husband Howard died from cancer in January of 1999, she began a long, uneasy trip — dealing with the loss of a loved one and the grief and pain that follows.

“Grief is a journey and once you enter on its path, there is no destination,” said Boyd, 65, of Oklahoma City. “Each person has to find for himself or herself how best to travel it. It’s not something you get over. It’s something you keep getting through.”

Experts in the field of bereavement designate five stages of grief and six reconciliation needs that apply to most people dealing with the death of a spouse, relative or close friend.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who interviewed terminally ill patients for her 1969 book “On Death and Dying,” wrote there are five stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Alan Wolfelt, a grief counselor and director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo., said there are six reconciliation needs:

  • Acknowledge the reality of the death
  • Embrace the pain of the loss
  • Remember the person who died
  • Develop a new self-identity
  • Search for meaning
  • Receive on-going support from others

Boyd said she began her grieving process when her husband was diagnosed with cancer a year before his death.

“I started saying good bye to him each day throughout the last year of his life,” said Boyd, now a volunteer at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City and Hospice of Oklahoma County. She and Howard were married nearly 39 years.

She went to a grief support group two weeks after her husband died.

“It was stated that no matter how you try avoiding them, you will go through them,” said Boyd. “Well, I was naive enough to say, ‘OK, if I have to go through them, I want to get started and get it over with.

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Five stages of grief
  • Denial: A conscious or unconscious refusal to accept the facts or the information provided.
  • Anger: An expression of helplessness once the reality of the loss is acknowledged.
  • Bargaining: An attempt at bargaining to seek a different result than reality.
  • Depression: A hopelessness when there is a realization that nothing can reverse the reality.
  • Acceptance: When the initial emotions of grief have been processed.

Source: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, “On Death and Dying”

Six reconciliation needs of mourners
  • Acknowledge the reality of the death: To gently confront the difficult reality that someone you loved is dead and will never physically be present to you again.
  • Embrace the pain of the loss: To draw “closer” to the pain of a loss instead of attempting to avoid, repress, or ignore it.
  • Remember the person who died: To actively and intentionally remember the person who died, and honor their life.
  • Develop a new self-identity: To restructure life and relationships in order to identify your life with its new reality.
  • Search for meaning: To question and explore religious and spiritual values in light of grief.
  • Receive on-going support from others: To develop a support system of family and friends for the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Source: Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Center for Loss and Life Transition


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