Celebrant Training – The 6 Stages of Grief Explained

Death is a beginning. Once it occurs the survivor must move on with life and start again. However, there is at first a downward trend after the death occurs, and the survivor will move through four stages of grief before a resolution takes place. Some, or even all, of these stages may last from a mere few seconds to several months. The point is that each stage will occur, and in a specific order.

The stages of grief are highlighted below. Notice that death is the beginning. From the death, one is inevitably drawn in to denial followed by a numbness. Next, a slump or a feeling of falling into a ‚”pit‚” when the survivor is searching for answers occurs. As the survivor surfaces from the pit, they enter a disorientation mode but from this resolutions occur. The arrows after resolution indicates moving on with your life.
Death > Denial > Numbness > Searching > Disorientation > Resolution >>>
The 6 Stages of Grief
Everyone knows what it means to deny the existence of something. You simply say it isn’t so. But can you explain the difference between denial and avoidance? Here is an example that will illustrate this difference:
Two brothers walk into the funeral home to pay their final respects to their father. James looks at the room, the mourners, their father in the casket, and thinks to himself: ‚”Oh No – This can‚’t be true.‚” Guy looks at the room, the mourners, their father, and thinks to himself as he leaves: ‚”It is true, but I‚’m not going to think about it.‚”
James denies the death. Even though his father is lying there in a casket, he still denies the death. James is going through the first stage of grief. His denial is normal even when he can see his father is dead. Guy, on the other hand, accepts the death but wishes to avoid the reality of it at the moment. Guy‚’s behaviour is also normal, but should not continue for a long period of time either.


From denial, a stage of numbness is felt. This period can last through the funeral. In fact, sometimes it is how survivors actually make it through the period between the death and the funeral.Weight loss is another normal sign for this stage. A a result of poor concentration, a survivor may remember all the ‚”technicalities‚” in arranging the funeral, but may forget to eat. Or, there may be a loss of appetite. After all, what difference does it make if the survivor eats? Who cares?Numbness is that time when shock has settled into the person‚’s mind. The survivor, in a state of shock, walks through the funeral ceremony, sapped of energy and may even suffer from chronic tiredness. No matter how much sleep they get, it seems they need more. In any event they continue to do all the arrangements without thinking.


It is this kind of questioning that leads us to the next stage of grief – searching. The survivor falls into a kind of ‚”pit.‚” It is a depressed state that the survivor may find them-self in. They question their own validity, experience self doubt, possibly guilt and anger.

When Sarah‚’s father died she felt many emotions, but the strongest were guilt and anger. She felt guilty because she had a disagreement about the use of his car with him the night before he died. She was angry at him as well as he had died before their disagreement could be resolved.

Sarah was sure that if she had been able to apologise, he would have died happy, or he would not have died at all. Although their disagreement had nothing to do with his death, Sarah felt guilty that in some way it had pushed him over the edge.

Sarah must work through her guilt, but understand that working through it means she is on her way to recovery. She can correct these feelings of guilt and anger by playing out the next conversation in her head. Sarah could ‚”visualize‚” a meeting with her father where they resolved the question regarding the car.

Survivors may dream about a deceased, and the dreams reveal how the survivors accept the death. Our experience has been that people who have violent dreams about the deceased have difficulty accepting the death; whereas, people who have passive dreams have the tendency to accept the death. Their image of the deceased is important in their acceptance.Being able to see the deceased in this way brings up two other areas in the Searching Stage. They are: Image of the Deceased and Deism. The first has to do with survivor‚’s ability to accept the death; the second with survivor‚’s memory of the deceased.

Another element of the searching stage deals with loving again. Many times a widow or widower will make the statement that they will never marry again because the spouse could never be replaced, or they will never allow themselves to be vulnerable again. After all, if they don‚’t allow love to enter their life again, they cannot be hurt. It follows, then, that if they want to escape grieving ever again, they simply need to not love anyone again. Only those people who love can grieve; although grieving is not something a person looks forward to, it is better than the alternative: never loving. Grief must become an acceptable and normal part of life and recovery.

Finally, the survivor can begin to climb from the pit to a no less complicated but necessary stage called disorientation.

A elastic band can be pulled in two opposing ways at the same time, but it also does not move from its original position. The pulls and tugs can stretch the elastic band, but they can also restrict it. Our emotions are like the elastic band after a death. Part of us pulls to move ahead without the loved one, and part of us pulls toward the past because that is the only way we can think of the deceased. We are pulled two ways, but we do not move. We are, in fact, restricted in our movement because of this action.

In the Disorientation stage, there are feelings of confusion, worthlessness, self-accusation and loneliness.
Many times with the elderly, when a spouse dies, it is common to see the survivor die within a short period of time. Can this ‚”willing‚” one‚’s self to die be considered a form of suicide? Of course not – it is said that loneliness depletes the will to live.When a spouse or child dies, there is often a feeling of: ‚”Why bother going ahead?‚” But it is the ‚Äògoing ahead‚’ that is very important to recovery and eventually resolution. If a person doesn’t go on with their life, they could slip into a pathological depression and become suicidal. It is especially true in the elderly.

So, it is with great resolve, or determination, that the survivor must look ahead and stretch forward. The past should not be forgotten, nor should it be lived in exclusively or permanently. Reminiscences are fine, but do not dwell in the past. Let go of the past and watch yourself shoot forward.

It is in letting go that resolution can occur. If you do not let go, you will not change, forgive, or understand yourself. The survivor needs to set goals to bring about these areas of letting go. Here is an example of how a simple change can be a very dramatic statement for letting go:

Keven never grew a beard, or moustache, because his wife did not like beards or facial hair. It was not an issue with them, just a fact. When Lorna died suddenly at age 38, Keven found that he was depressed and sought help. After seeing a psychotherapist for a few months, he decided he could face the world without Lorna. His psychotherapist asked him to return in a year, just to keep in touch.

Through a small action such as growing a beard, Keven had let go. He had not done it rashly or promiscuously, but after a period of adjustment and grief.Ten months passed and Keven returned. When he walked into the office, the psychotherapist knew he had let go and was on his way to recovery. Keven had grown a beard.
It is important to point out that change should not be too hasty, nor goals too lofty. In the beginning it is important to take one day at a time. You don‚’t want to feel guilty in this final stage of grief. You want to feel good about yourself and your recovery. Here is another example that will help to illustrate when a survivor knows he has come through that final stage of grief:

Diane had been married 40 years when her husband died. On the anniversary of his death she said: ‚”The best piece of advice I received after Phil‚’s death was to not change anything for a year. Now I am ready to retire and take the trips we had planned to do together.‚”
Diane has the resolve and will let go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *