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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Patiño

Riding the Emotional Roller Coaster- Understanding the Five Stages of Grief

Hello everyone, Natasha here!!

Thinking about what my next blog should be about, I thought it would be helpful to end this month with a blog about the emotional roller coaster of feelings. The last two blogs described this experience related to miscarriage, so what better time than now to discuss grief!

Grief is defined as “deep sadness caused especially by someone’s death” and “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Often, we relate grief with the death of someone we care about, but grief can also be for other losses such as: a loss of a job, a loss of a friendship, moving to a different country and feeling the loss of what used to be, loss of our health (i.e., losing a limb, terminal illness), loss of a marriage due to separation/divorce, even with infertility it could be the loss of what we never got to have, and so on. This loss can feel too overwhelming to overcome.

A resource a lot of therapists turn to for help navigating our client’s grief, is Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ book called, “On Death and Dying” that was published in 1969. She created the Five Stages of Grief originally to help her patients with terminal illness, but this was soon adapted to many forms of loss. There have been some adaptations like having a 6th or 7th stage, like “meaning,” but the most known are the five stages which I will focus on today.



With denial, the “world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense,” (Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler) where we cannot believe what just happened. We are in complete shock, we deny it, and don’t accept it. We literally go numb. If this loss is a health diagnosis, it may be denial that the test results were positive. If our spouse left us, it’s denial that the marriage is over. Sometimes we want to go back and freeze time, where we refuse to change the loved one’s bedroom, refuse to sit on the loved one’s favorite chair that he always sat it…. we just don’t want to face the loss. We say things like “no, that’s not possible,” “the tests are wrong,” “no, there’s no way she’s not here anymore.” It’s as if our body is saying that this loss is too much to handle all at once, so it goes through the denial phase to cope with the overpowering news.


Once the reality starts setting in, the second stage “anger” kicks in. You become angry at yourself, your body, others, God, the system, anybody, and everybody. Anger is NECESSARY to heal, with researchers and mental health professionals both agreeing with this important part of the process. Without anger, we get stuck and cannot move forward. During this stage, we may be a lot more irritable, lose our temper, be short with others, have a hard time with patience, lose our cool more at work. You say things like “life’s not fair,” “why didn’t they catch it earlier,” “why did she have to drive down that specific road where she had the accident.”


If you are doing “what if” or “if only” statements, you have made it to the third stage, bargaining. How stressful has this been so far already, and we are only halfway there! Ah!!! Here, we almost create false hope by thinking we can negotiate with someone (usually God) or something, as if by negotiation you can stop the grief from happening. We are almost stuck in limbo, not knowing what to do but try to almost change the past. We say things like “if only she would have left the house five minutes later,” “if only I took his keys away so he wouldn’t have driven drunk,” “if only I went to the doctor 6 months earlier,” “what if we would’ve gone to couple’s counseling sooner,” or “take me instead.”

4.) Depression

This stage is filled with lots of feelings of sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness. This depression state is a normal part of the process and expected after such a loss. Many people misunderstand this and think we need to snap out of it, but it is very important to understand that this state of depression is not a sign of

being sick or being mentally ill. It is a very appropriate response to such a great loss in our lives. This is the first stage that focuses on the present. "Five Stages Of Grief - Understanding the Kubler-Ross Model (” explains it saying depression “represents the emptiness we feel when we are living in reality and realize the person or situation is gone or over.” This, of course, can cause us to isolate ourselves, motivation go down, we withdraw from others and from the world, avoid people, and just have little to no energy to get up in the morning. We say things like “what’s the point,” “I can’t live without him,” or “why should I even get up in the mornings?!”

5.) Acceptance

People often mistake this stage with being “fine” with the loss, but that is not the case. It’s more about knowing that you will be okay even after the loss. It’s not that you’re happy about the terminal illness but have accepted this fact and coming to terms with facing death. If it’s the loss of a marriage, it’s knowing that even though it was hard and almost destroyed you, that you will move forward and be okay. (Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler) explains it well, saying “as we begin to live again and enjoy our life, we often feel that in doing so, we are betraying our loved one. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, new inter-dependencies.” Here we evolve and create a new normal after our loss. We say, “I’ll be okay,” “they will always be in my heart,” or “I know they would want me to go back to work.”

DO’s to Help you Move through Emotional Roller Coaster

- DO talk to your support system. Remember we should support one another, and one day you will be there for them. We need one another’s support. Just accept that right now you may be the one that needs more help.

- USE healthy coping skills on a regular basis. This can be exercise, journaling, intramural sports, volunteering at your local animal shelter, anything that is healthy and brings you some sense of comfort.

- FIND a support group. Many churches and organizations have support groups. It’s very powerful to find a group of individuals that really understand what you are going through.

- SEEK counseling, especially if after one year or so you continue to significantly struggle, and it’s continuing to affect major areas of your life.


- DON’T turn to alcohol, drugs, or other unhealthy habits to ‘cope.’ They suppress your feelings, so you get stuck and do not go through the stages of grief. PLUS, you can risk developing an dependence on them which often results in many areas of your life falling apart.

- DON’T isolate yourself. Remember we are meant to be in a community. If we do this alone, our emotional roller coaster will be MUCH harder to go through.

- DON’T keep your thoughts or feelings inside. If you bottle it inside, you will end up hurting you much more in the long run.

Even though these stages of grief are laid out in order, going through this emotional roller coaster be all over the place. This is not a linear process, nor is it simple. Maybe you finally got close to the acceptance stage, then some reminder sets you back to the anger stage. Maybe you stay in denial for a matter of minutes but stay in the anger stage for weeks. Maybe you have been in acceptance for a long time, but the anniversary of the event sends us back to the beginning with denial. Knowing the stages and knowing what to expect, can be a simple tool to help you ride the emotional roller coaster, so the dips and lows won’t be AS overwhelming…. but it will still be overwhelming!

In closing, grief is something we will all be impacted with MANY times in our lives, in many forms. The more we try to avoid and hide from the pain, the worse we will feel and longer it will cripple us. I would like to end this blog today with a quote by David Kessler that is an author, public speaker, death and grieving expert. I met him at a training, and found him to be so fascinating and helpful, with a wealth of knowledge related to loss. His quote is from this book, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief,” where he says:

"Death ends a life, but not our relationship, our love, or our hope."

Until next time,


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