It's important for writers to be familiar with these stages. Assuming your characters are human, they will be experiencing these emotions as well, either on a small or large scale. Grief is one of the most powerful and personal emotions in the human experience, and a writer who implements the stages effectively can bring a reader into an intensely intimate and vulnerable moment with a character.
The stages, popularly known by the acronym DABDA, include:
- Denial — As the reality of loss is hard to face, one of the first reactions to follow the loss is Denial. What this means is that the person is trying to shut out the reality or magnitude of their situation, and begin to develop a false, preferable reality. Ex for a child: “Mom and Dad will stay together. They aren't seriously getting a divorce.”
- Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame?" Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a person experiencing anger from grief. Ex for a child. “I hate Dad for leaving us.”
- Bargaining — "I'll do anything for a
few more years."; "I will give my life savings if…"
The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow undo or avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Other times, they will use anything valuable as a bargaining chip against another human agency to extend or prolong the life they live. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time…" People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?" when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it is a matter of life or death. Ex. for a child: "If I do all of my chores maybe Dad won’t leave Mom."
- Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die soon so what's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?" During the fourth stage, the grieving person begins to understand the certainty of death. Much like the existential concept of The Void, the idea of living becomes pointless. Things begin to lose meaning to the griever. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and sullen. This process allows the grieving person to disconnect from things of love and affection, possibly in an attempt to avoid further trauma. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the 'aftermath'. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It is natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation. Often times, this is the ideal path to take, to find closure and make their ways to the fifth step, Acceptance. Ex. for a child: “I’m sorry that I cannot fix this situation for you.”
- Acceptance — "It's going to be
okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. This stage varies according to the person's situation. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief. This typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable mindset.
Are your characters experiencing any of the five stages of grief? What are some ways you can depict those emotions instead of just naming them?