Denial and Grief

Losing a loved one is a painful process, and denial can be the first stage. With nurturing support and present moment activities a person can move towards acceptance.

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross recognized that denial can be the first of five stages of grief during her research in to death and dying in the 1970s. The other stages include anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Originally, she applied these stages of grief to people who were terminally ill and facing their own death. But she then discovered that the same grieving process happened to people dealing with the grief and loss of a loved one, a pet, a relationship, a job, or any other important element of life.

Although these stages of grief don't necessarily occur in a specific order, anad people may recycle through each of them, denial can be a common first experience. Understanding all the different stages of grief can help people to find peace while letting go. Here is a description of the possible first stage of grief, denial, and how to move through it with more ease and peace.

Denial is the First Stage of Grief

Grieving the loss of a loved one takes time and patience. The stronger the bond, the more painful it is to be without the spouse, family member, friend or pet. As mentioned, not everyone goes through each of the stages of grief, and not always in the same order. But denial can be a first reaction, so it is helpful to understand it.

Although bereavement is a normal part of life, the mind and body experience an initial shock when someone close suddenly disappears. The body likes routine and doesn't like sudden changes. The mind expects to see what it has seen before. This can be particularly challenging upon first waking, before the mind and body have clicked-in to present reality. If a person walks into a room and sees their loved one's favorite chair sitting empty, it can be jarring to the mind.

Even once the shock has worn off, the mind can play tricks by denying that the loved one is gone. A person may think they see their loved one walking down the street, or expect them to walk in the house at any moment. It's a sort of wishful thinking process as the mind and body come to terms with the new reality.

Moving Past Denial During the Grieving Process

It can be difficult for some people to accept the death of a loved one. They may be concerned about how to live without this person in their life, or it may trigger fears about their own mortality. Here are some suggestions for moving past denial and towards acceptance.

  • Know that it is a normal reaction at first to deny the loss.
  • Realize that you are safe and fine at the present time without them.
  • Stay in the present moment by focusing on surroundings and current activities.
  • Give the body comforting reassurance with nurturing foods and activities.
  • Create a memorial or photo album to honor the loved one and feel close to them.
  • Talk to friends and family about the loved one and your current feelings.
  • Connect with the God of your heart for spiritual support.

Moving through the stage of denial and towards accepting the death of a loved one can happen quickly and smoothly when people support their mind and body with comfort, routine and loving connections. When feelings of anger and sadness are dominant, another stage of grief has begun.



Source: On Death and Dying by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (Tavistock Publications, 1976).

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