I’ve written before about stages of grief that you can expect to go through following a loss…but what about the stages you can expect to go through if you find out that you are faced with the reality of an impending death, be it yours or a loved one? Inspired by her work with terminally ill patients, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced five stages that people can expect to experience when they learn of a terminal illness. She also noted though that these five stages are not a complete list of all possible emotions that could be felt, that they can occur in any order, and that personal losses are as unique as the person experiencing them.
DENIAL: This is a defense mechanism. This is when we say “I feel fine. This can’t be happening to me”. This stage allows us time to take baby steps; to accept and process things as we are able.
ANGER: “Why me? It’s not fair!” In this stage, a person recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person who is dying can be very difficult to care for due to misplaced anger and envy. It’s important to remain nonjudgmental when that anger is directed at you.
BARGAINING: “I’ll do anything for a few more years”. “I’ll go to church every Sunday”. Usually the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle.
DEPRESSION: “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?” It’s natural to feel sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty when going through this stage. It shows that the person has begun to accept the situation. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer an individual up who is in this stage; it is an important time for grieving that must be processed.
ACCEPTANCE: “It’s going to be okay”. “If I can’t fight it, I will prepare for it”. In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their own mortality or that of the person they love. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, since survivors must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
This information can be found in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ book On Death and Dying.