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Death and grief: when will you start to feel better?

Death and grief is not something that can be compartmentalized. It's impossible to tell someone that he or she will grieve for three months or six months or two years before starting to feel better. There is no set time frame for you to mourn your loved one. Bereavement is a process, not an event.

There are several theories on the different stages of grief. Author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote the definitive book on this subject, On Death and Dying. When people discuss the stages of grief, they are most often referring to the five stages of grief that she defined. According to Kübler-Ross:

  • The first stage of grief is denial. The bereaved feel as if this is not happening to them, that their loved one really didn't die and everything will be fine.
  • The second stage of grief is anger. This can be anger at anyone from the deceased to God. For example, those in bereavement often have thoughts of, "Why did you leave me alone like this?" towards their loved ones who died. Or their anger may be directed at God for taking away a loved one.
  • The third stage of grief is bargaining. At this stage, the bereaved will promise anything in order to make life return to normal. It often involves promising to be a better person. For example, those who have lost a loved one often bargain with God: "I'll stop smoking if I can have him back!"
  • The fourth stage of grief is depression. This is true, devastating grieving. The reality of the death has set in and feelings of sadness and helplessness take over.
  • The final stage of grief is acceptance. According to Kübler-Ross, this is when the bereaved will begin to feel better and return to a normal life. In acceptance there is healing because in acceptance, there is reality. Death is the final reality of life.
Alternative stages of grief

Dr. Roberta Temes studied alternative stages of grief in her book Living With An Empty Chair - A Guide Through Grief. The first stage of grief, as described by Dr. Temes, is what she refers to as numbness, a state where the bereaved simply go through the motions of everyday life and tasks. They literally feel numb and empty inside. There is little thought given to anything besides their grief.

The second stage is disorganization. This is where grief intensifies and the bereaved actively mourn the loss of their loved ones. This is similar to the depression stage of grief as outlined by Kübler-Ross. The final stage of grief is known as reorganization. This is similar to acceptance and the stage when the bereaved begin to feel emotionally stronger and "normal."

So, when will you start to feel better?

Which researcher has it right, Kübler-Ross or Temes? When will you start to feel better? These stages of grief are only theories and both have their merits. They attempt to clarify and universalize the grief experience, since this is the one thing that we all have in common – death, and coping with the death of others. Everyone will mourn the loss of a loved one differently. Anyone who has ever experienced bereavement will identify with one, both, or a combination of the two theories on the stages of grief.

Each death you experience will be different than the others. The stages of grief may last longer or be shorter depending on the relationship held with the deceased. There is no "schedule" for grieving your loss. The wonderful thing about being a part of the human experience is that we are all different in the way we perceive the world, each other, and ourselves!

Remember that this, too, will pass

The experience of loss, death and grief is different for everyone. It is important to spend as much time as you need to mourn the loss of your loved one. The important thing to remember is that you will feel better. It will take time to heal and the feelings will be intense, but you will heal. This, too, will pass.

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Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Coping with your own grief section helpful too.

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