The Big 5: Understanding Grief

While it is recognized that everyone grieves in different ways, there is still something quite universal about the experience. According to the popular Kübler-Ross model (or the five stages of grieving, as many know it as), terminally ill patients, and those who are losing, or have lost, a loved one experience five key emotions as they work through their grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

While we recognize that this is not everyone’s experience, these are universal experiences that most people can relate to in some way when facing a tremendous loss.


Denial is listed first as it is often the snap emotion that we feel when we are given bad news. It’s almost our brain trying to protect us from emotional hardship.

“No, this can’t be true. You must have me confused with someone else.”

Even though deep down we know what we’ve just learned it true, we can’t help but go into denial mode. Whether a doctor has just told you have a fatal, incurable disease, or a family member has called to tell you that someone close to you has just passed away, feelings of denial can be strong.


The denial stage is often short-lived, which is why anger often follows. Whether you’re looking for someone to blame or you’re feeling like you live in a cruel and unfair world, anger can be a visceral reaction when dealing with a traumatic event.

“This is unfair! Why is this happening to me?”


Bargaining can be one of the most heartbreaking stages of grief. For the terminally ill, this might be, “If I get better, I promised I’ll take better care of myself.” For those grieving over the loss of a loved one, they might bargain with a higher power, “If I could only have one more day with them, I promise I’ll be a better person.”

What’s heartbreaking is that these requests cannot be granted, and these promises are often made in vain due to emotional stress.


This can be the toughest stage to overcome. After denial, anger, and bargaining fail to change the outcome, you can fall into a deep depression knowing there’s nothing you can do. During this stage you might feel defeated – that there’s no point in trying to do anything, because you cannot change what’s happened. You might refuse to talk to anyone, and avoid social interaction entirely.

Some people find it hard to get out of this stage alone, and require grief counselling. Having someone to talk to is important for many people going through depression due to grief. For some counselling is the only way they can reach the fifth and final stage.


While still sad, this is the stage where the patient or loved one has accepted what’s happened and has more or less made their peace with it. It’s about understanding that what’s happened, or what’s about to happen, was and is inevitable. When you accept this you can come to terms with immortality, which is part of being human.

“I will really miss them, but I have some wonderful memories and they will live on in my heart.”

If you or someone you know is going through grief after the death of a loved one, or after receiving devastating news, the Funeral Directors at Chapel Ridge Funeral Home in Markham have a lot of resources available to you to help you get through this difficult time.

If you live in the York Region, here are some local organizations that can help:

Bereaved Families of York Region


Chrysalis Psychological and Counselling Services