The science behind our grief

Posted on August 28th, 2018

Grief is an individual process that sadly we will all experience, in our own way, at some point in our lives. However, while this is a process that is different for everyone, there are theories that suggest that there are certain stages that are universal. The most widely-recognised theory is the Kubler-Ross model, developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the late 60s throughout her time working closely with terminally-ill patients. Read on for a brief exploration of each stage detailed in the model…


Rather than an active decision to ignore a trauma, denial is a short-lived defence mechanism that the brain uses to ‘cushion the blow’ and to numb the initial shock of a painful change. This process allows the mind to accept new information gradually, as an initial step of managing a situation we find too painful to handle at first.


Anger is a more familiar concept to many of us; in the context of a loss, this is our brain’s solution for providing us with structure or ‘realness’ to our pain. As we know, this process may cause us to temporarily direct negative feelings towards others (our loved ones, doctors, faith) or try to assign blame. However, it’s important to realise that anger is driven by deeper emotions; it is simply a temporary, more easily-managed response as we try to make sense of our loss.


At this stage, our mind is seeking a less traumatic outcome and we search for a way to ‘negotiate’ with the situation in the following ways:

  • We question ourselves: “What if I had done something sooner?”
  • We consider changing our lives: “What do I need to do to stop this happening?”
  • We bargain: “I’d do anything if only…” Many people turn to prayer more than ever at this stage of grief

The bargaining stage may also lead us to postpone making plans, as on some level we hope there is a way to change our reality.


This stage of the grieving process is a natural emotional response and probably the most recognisable element of grief. Our sense of loss is beginning to settle and we feel it on a deeper level. This causes feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness, intense sadness and often a sense that these emotions will overwhelm us. While we may withdraw from others, accepting these feelings is important as although it will not go away it will get easier as time progresses.


The word ‘acceptance’ is often misconstrued as ‘being over it’ or ‘everything is ok now’. However, this is not necessarily the case – many of us feel that the loss of a loved one will never feel ‘alright’. Rather, this stage is the point at which we begin to accept our new, permanent reality, and start to find a way to readjust. This could be as simple as beginning to have more good days than bad. Rather than betraying, forgetting or replacing the one we’ve lost, this is an ongoing process where we find a way to carry on. Simply put, it is learning to live with our loss.

Here at Freedom Funerals, we talk to a lot of grieving people and are always available for a chat if you need to talk on 01206 862963.