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Dealing with Grief, Part 1: The Grieving Cycle, Part A — Definitions and Dangers

by | Oct 18, 2014 | Dealing with Grief (A Mini-Series)


It’s an age-old emotion, one that was even outlined in the Bible:

“When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.” (Matt 17:22-23 NIV)

There is a process that we all go through when something bad happens. It’s called the grieving cycle. You’ve all heard of it, it’s the natural chain of emotion that we experience when dealing with grief. It has been described in the following way:

Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news. Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable. Anger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion. Bargaining stage: Seeking a way out. Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable. Testing stage: Seeking realistic solutions. Acceptance stage: Finally finding the way forward.

Although this has been described as a cycle, experts now tell us that it is more of a process. It is natural, it is normal, it is healing. The only problems arise when we get stuck in one of these phases.

In Dealing with Grief, Part 1, we will be looking at defining the different stages of the grieving cycle, and discussing possible outcomes of getting stuck in any one of these stages, and in Dealing with Grief, Part 2, we will be looking at how to safeguard ourselves from getting stuck in these stages!

Let’s take a look at each stage individually:

The Shock stage: It is a normal thing. You hear bad news, and you are in shock. When I received the call that my brother had committed suicide, I couldn’t even respond. I just sat there in my office, my cell phone to my ear, with my mouth hanging open sputtering about how I didn’t have a good connection. Perfectly normal. But what if I had stayed in this stage? You hear stories of people who have heart attacks and die over the shock of bad news. Others become mute, unresponsive. Why? Because their minds cannot deal with what they have heard.

The Denial Stage: Human nature dictates that we try to avoid the inevitable. When I received news that my dad had passed away, my first response was this: “No, they must have gotten it wrong! It couldn’t have been my DAD you were talking about who had a heart attack! He was a picture of health!” Again, very normal. But what if I had never gotten beyond this stage? I would have never gone to the funeral. I wouldn’t have been there for my mom and my husband. I would have just continued my life in status quo, though somewhere along the line, I might have begun to get angry at my dad for not contacting me!

The Anger Stage: It is perfectly human for us to become angry at the one(s) who have hurt us. And not only is it perfectly natural, it is also necessary! We cannot keep those pent-up emotions inside! We have to let them out! Before my brother’s funeral, I had the opportunity to have a private visitation. Up until this point, I had been pretty strong, and it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how angry I was. And I laid all of my frustrated anger out in that private room, where no one could hear me, and I left feeling refreshed. What would have happened had I not done so? Unforgiveness would have moved in and I would have become bitter and angry. We’ve all met angry people, people who have been hurt by someone or something and who never get over it. Either they have no avenue for release, or they do not employ it and they never forgive.

Bargaining Stage: When faced with bad things, it’s natural for us to seek a way out. When told that I was going to lose the other Speech Pathologist on my team at work, I went out and bargained. I begged, I pleaded, I reasoned, I did everything in my power to help my manager and those above her to realize how this was a very bad idea. Why? Because I felt helpless. It gave me something to do. If I had become stuck in this stage however, I would have never been able to come up with reasonable alternatives!

Depression Stage: Okay, so we have been in shock, we have been in denial, we’ve been angry, we’ve even tried bargaining, but nothing is helping. What now? This is where the brain shuts down and quits trying. This is the depression stage. Again, very, very natural. Not so long ago, I became overwhelmed with new referrals at work. I couldn’t keep up! Since I have a strong work ethic, it wasn’t long before all of my thoughts were consumed with the fact that the work was piling up and my patients weren’t getting the care they needed. It came to the point that I could no longer find joy in anything around me. We’ve all experienced what it’s like to get stuck in the depression stage! What sad lives we live until we break out!

Testing Stage: This is the stage where healing begins to happen. After my dad died, I spent a bit of time in this stage, planning different scenarios for my mom, for my family, trying to figure out what would be the best way to go on without him. This is an important stage, but it is also important to eventually stop planning and move ahead. Otherwise, the problem never gets resolved. I did finally find a scenario that worked, and when we moved ahead to pursue it, it led to:

Acceptance Stage: We were able, as a family, to move forward. This is the one stage, friends, that it’s okay to get stuck in!

But how can we avoid getting stuck in one of these stages? Join us next week, for The Grieving Cycle, Part b: How to Keep From Getting Stuck!

In His love,


Lyn Chaffart, Mother of two teens, Author and Moderator for The Nugget, a tri-weekly internet newsletter, and Scriptural Nuggets, a website devoted to Christian devotionals and inspirational poems, , with Answers2Prayer Ministries, .

(To access the entire “Dealing With Grief” mini-series, please click here.)