Coping with Grief

Though difficult to handle, grief and loss is a natural part of life. When people lose what they value, they feel loss. When people move, they feel loss until they make new friends and establish new routines. A person who suffers loss of health feels grief, one of the most painful human emotions. When the diagnosis of a chronic or a progressive condition is made, people receiving the diagnosis, as well as relatives, grieve. The diagnosed person grieves for the loss of skills, decreasing control over body functions and not knowing what the future will bring. The family grieves about the diagnosis and for loss of the person they knew so well. As the illness progresses and the person changes in ability and function, the person and family feel the loss of shared experiences. In order to cope more effectively with grief, it can be helpful to know Elisabeth Kübler-Ross ’s five stages of grief.

Denial Stage:

The first stage of grieving is the denial stage. The person does not believe the news and essentially becomes "numb." The person may lose the sense of what is normal and feels empty.

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Anger Stage:

In the anger stage, the person wants to show their anger and questions why things are happening to them and not to others.

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Bargaining Stage:

At this stage, individuals want to make a deal or to return things the way they were. The person may feel guilty and question what they did wrong to deserve having a loved one with a progressive disorder.

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Depression and Sadness Stage:

In this stage, the individual feels lonely and may have difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite or difficulty concentrating in the daily activities.

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Acceptance Stage:

The last stage is the process of acceptance. In this stage, the person becomes more objective and the intense feelings of grief are softened. The person may feel tired of grieving and feel ready for something new or different. There may be occasional moments of anger or sadness, but these times are fewer.

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Material adapted from “Helping People With Progressive Memory Disorders: A Guide For You And Your Family” ( University of Florida Health Science Center). Used with permission from the authors: K. M. Heilman, MD, L. Doty, PhD, J. T. Stewart, MD, D Bowers, PhD, L. Gonzalez-Rothi, PhD.


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College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida