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Bereavement Support Services

Phases and Stages of Grieving

During the late 1960s when Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross began to formally evaluate grief in terminal cancer patients, she divided it into consecutive phases including shock and disbelief, depression, anger and acceptance. She believed that understanding the phases of grieving may help staff interact with patients and caregivers. Since then many different theories have been developed to assist the dying, their families and caregivers in understanding the grief process.

It is important to understand that these stages, phases and theories are only guides and that grief is very individual. While some people will experience these phases distinctly, for others their grief responses will overlap and flow back and forth. The period of grieving will vary by the relationship and circumstances of death.5

1. Shock and Numbness

  • Stunned, disbelief
  • Denial
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Resistance to stimuli
  • Time confusion
  • Failure to accept reality
  • Impeded functioning

2. Searching and Yearning

  • Sensitivity to stimuli
  • Anger/guilt
  • Impatience
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Aching arms
  • Preoccupation with deceased

3. Disorientation

  • Parents or caregivers may think they are going crazy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Disorganization
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Sense of failure
  • Exhaustion
  • Sadness
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss/gain

4. Reorganization

  • Renewed energy
  • Easier decision-making
  • Ability to laugh and smile again
  • Reestablishment of eating and sleeping habits
  • Planning for the future