Lessons Learned: Grief in Stages

The common stages to grief include denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. Going through grief doesn’t apply only to losing a loved one. The stages also apply to those with a terminal illness, losing a job (even when retiring), ending a marriage or partnership, or any other loss that affects our lives.

Each person handles grief in different ways based on the circumstance. Each person handles grief different than how another person may handle it. With this in mind, I thought about my brother passing away 3 ½ years ago and my dad passing away a year ago today.

I remember when my brother’s girlfriend told me that he had stage 4 lung cancer. I began the grieving process at that time. First words that came out of my mouth were, “What? You’re kidding me.” At the time, the doctors guessed he had about three to four months to live. You hear the words, but you don’t put two and two together on what it means. We were dealing with my mom having her stroke, wondering if she was going to make it through, and then this came as a double whammy. I had to research stage 4 lung cancer to realize how serious his condition was at the time.

The anger that came next wasn’t the physical or shouting anger but more on how it wasn’t fair. He was only in his mid-fifties and too young to die. The anger and the bargaining stages were close together for me. I wished he had gone to the doctor sooner. I wished that I would’ve pressed him to go in, knowing that he was having pain in his shoulder. Depression came next. The sadness in knowing that I would never see him again had me burst in tears without warning. When he went into hospice, I was depressed, but I was accepting of the outcome as well. No one wants to see someone you love go through the pain. Even when medicated, he was miserable.  

On the other side, my brother was going through all four stages of grief right until the end. He was angry. He knew he’d been around Agent Orange. He knew he’d been on a Navy ship that had asbestos. He wasn’t ready to die. He thought he could beat the cancer even up until the very end. My sister was able to get my mom and dad out to see him a couple days before he died. My mom asked him if he was ready to die. He said, “No. Maybe tomorrow.” The morning he died, his friend was there to see him. The day started as it normally did. His friend greeted him and then went to get a cup of coffee. On his return to the room, my brother had died. It was quick, and I wonder if that’s when he accepted the inevitable.  

When my dad died, we knew for a while his health was failing. He had chronic kidney failure, a bad heart, and we guessed that he may have had cancer as well. After he died, I didn’t go through all the stages of grief. I went through two stages: depression and acceptance. Acceptance came first. I was relieved when he passed. Again, like my brother, it’s miserable seeing someone you love being in so much pain. At least now, he wasn’t suffering. The depression came later. In late summer, I was feeling in a funk. I was having a hard time writing. I wasn’t my normal self. I couldn’t pinpoint why until one day when it dawned on me that I was depressed. I was missing my dad.  

For me, my stages of grief were different between brother and father. They were two different scenarios yet still the same. I had lost two members of my family. I think what helps, for anyone going through a major loss is knowing that no matter what, it’s okay to go through the different stages. Grief may only take a few days, while at other times it could take a year or longer. Life always changes. It’s okay. Just remember to keep your memories. The time you had the person can stay in your heart.

Grief flowers


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