Why the 5 Stages of Grief Doesn’t Fit Everyone

I still remember when I first experienced the death of a loved one. I went online to search “How should I feel when someone dies”. As a confused pre-teen raised in a South-Asian immigrant household, I was not sure how I was supposed to feel. I was sad, of course, but I didn’t know how to go about it. The first search result, along with the many that followed, all discussed the 5 Stages of Grief.

The 5 Stages of Grief was a model created by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969 that reviews the sequential order of how we experience grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

What Are the 5 Stages of Grief?

Denial: Refusing the reality that you have lost someone.

Anger: This could look like being mad at the person you lost, mad at the healthcare staff involved, mad at God/your spiritual deity, mad at yourself, your family members, etc.

Bargaining: Creating the “what if” and “if only” statements in your head, finding ways to regain control over the narrative.

Depression: Feeling overwhelmed, shutting down, heavy, confused, foggy, etc.

Acceptance: Coming to terms with the loss, finding meaning in it, and moving forward.

When I saw the several websites discussing how I will be experiencing all 5 stages of grief, I felt very outside of the norm. I was only experiencing some sadness and was mainly in the acceptance stage almost immediately.
What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I denying this loss? I am obviously a bit sad, but am I depressed over this?

Grief and Cultural influences

Being raised in a culture that heavily values their public image and stoic nature, it never felt right to be denying the death or being open about my depressive feelings as it would show others my weakness and lack of self-control. Through all the funeral events and life that followed, it was important to show strength and how to jump right back into life as if nothing happened. As a result, from the day my loved one passed away and for years after, I was only in stage 5, acceptance. As time went on, feelings of depression and anger naturally surfaced, but by not following the 5 stages in order and not experiencing all 5, my grief journey never felt “right”.

In our Western society, we are oftentimes told how we should be doing certain things or experiencing certain feelings. For example, how we should be practicing self-care (which does not account for the innate guilt immigrants feel when taking time for themselves), how we should set boundaries (which does not account for pressure children of immigrant parents feel to please their parents), how we should be grieving (which does not account for how our own culture teaches us to grieve), etc. Our Western society does not consider our cultural values and norms, resulting in many racialized individuals being confused in their identity, feelings, and actions.

All that to say, everyone is on their own grief journey. Although these 5 stages do exist in grief, it is important to recognize that not everyone will experience all 5 stages, may not experience all 5 in order, and there are many more stages of grief that may come up that go beyond these 5. You may be in a stage of shock, a stage of panic, a stage of guilt, a stage of hope, or in a stage in between…and that’s okay.

When you are grieving, it is important to embrace your grief, allow yourself to cry, be patient with yourself, take care of yourself, and seek support.

Regardless of what you were raised to believe or taught by society, remember that your stage of grief is valid, even if it doesn’t fit the 5.

Seeking professional help from a trained mental health therapist can help you through the grief. They can provide the necessary support to navigate through your thoughts and feelings effectively.

Journal Prompts To Support Grief Processing

When experiencing grief and loss, it can be helpful to engage in reflective processes. Here are a few to get you started!

  • Reflect on the way this grief and loss has impacted you,  your relationships and your life. 
  • How are you experiencing grief? 
  • What feels comfortable and helpful about experiencing grief in this way?
  • What feels risky or scary about experiencing grief in the way?

Professional Support for Grief

Seeking therapy to navigate the complexities of grief can require great strength and vulnerability.

Our diverse team of compassionate therapists are dedicated to offering personalized support and practical tools to navigate your grief journey. With our relational approach, we honor the interconnectedness of grief and relationships, recognizing the profound impact of loss on our identities, relationships, and lives.

Together, we’ll navigate the ebbs and flows of grief, empowering you to live a life that honours your loved one’s memory while finding peace and resilience within yourself.

Joshua Sebastian Registered Social Worker at Relationship Therapy Centre in Mississauga and Burlington
Josh has experience in both hospital and hospice settings supporting patients receiving a serious illness diagnosis, supporting their family members through their anticipatory grief, doing legacy work with patients, providing end-of-life support, and more. Josh's work extends to supporting those who lost someone due to a traumatic event, suicide, and through experiences of disenfranchised grief such as the loss of a relationship, a loss of home/community (immigration), loss of employment, and more.
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