Loss is a part of life, but it can be exceedingly difficult to overcome. Losing a friend or family member to cancer can be overwhelming. Many people go through a series of emotions commonly known as the five stages of grief. Learn more about the stages of grief from Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA). Serving individuals in New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and the Washington, D.C., area, RCCA has more than 20 locations so people with cancer can receive cutting-edge, compassionate care close to home.
First described by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD, the five stages of grief provide a theoretical framework for understanding the way a person deals with loss. The Kubler-Ross model initially was developed to describe the process a person goes through when dying. It was later applied to the process for grieving the loss of others. The five stages are:
The first stage of grief is often denial and shock. Immediately after someone passes away, loved ones might have difficulty comprehending the loss. Losing a friend or family member can be so overwhelming that a person isn’t always able to deal with reality right away. They may act as though everything is fine, refuse to talk about the loss, or busy themselves with work so they don’t have to process their feelings. These are natural defense mechanisms. As the initial shock begins to wear off, however, the person can begin to cope with his or her grief.
The next stage of grief is anger. Feeling angry is normal and can manifest in different ways. Some people feel angry with themselves and think they should have done something to prevent the loss. Others might feel anger toward their loved one’s healthcare providers.
People often are socially conditioned to suppress their anger, but letting it out is a part of the grieving process. Channeling anger through art, journaling, or activities such as running are healthy ways to process this emotion. Eventually, feelings of anger will begin to dissipate.
In the bargaining stage of grief, a person is focused on what could have gone differently. People may feel guilty or wonder if they could have intervened in some way. For example, a person might think that if he had convinced a loved one to see a doctor sooner, the cancer might have been identified and treated before it began to spread. The bargaining stage of grief sometimes is accompanied by guilt or a false belief that the person had more control over a situation than he or she actually did.
The fourth stage of grief is depression. At this point in the grieving process, the person has realized his or her loved one is gone. The bereaved person may withdraw from other friends and family or have difficulty engaging at work or school. When someone is depressed, even the smallest tasks can feel like too much. The person may feel hopeless or simply numb.
Feeling depressed is a normal reaction to a major loss. But ongoing clinical depression can require intervention. Some people benefit from meeting with a therapist, joining a support group, or taking anti-depressant medication.
The final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. This doesn’t mean that a person isn’t sad anymore or has stopped missing a loved one. It simply means accepting the loss and continuing to move forward within this new normal. Part of acceptance is realizing that there are going to be good days and bad days. A person’s emotional state begins to stabilize, and he or she starts to re-engage with the things they used to enjoy.
There is no right way to grieve – each person processes emotions differently. However, certain steps can help an individual cope with grief and loss:
Patients who have received a cancer diagnosis will find state-of-the-art care at Regional Cancer Care Associates. The medical team is experienced in treating all cancer types, as well as blood disorders. Regional Cancer Care Associates offers comprehensive patient and caregiver education on a wide range of topics, from self-care and nutrition to caregiver burnout and the stages of grief. For more information, contact one of our locations in New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, or the Washington, D.C., area. You can request an appointment today.