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Apr 23
Shirley Goodman

What are the Steps of Grief after a Loss?

Posted by: Shirley Goodman

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As an adult, you contemplate the subject of death, and quickly come to the realization that it is a permanent and irreversible cessation of the body’s vital function. Children have a more difficult time understanding death, because all the actors that ‘die’ on TV yesterday revive for the next movie tomorrow. For this current generation of young people realizing the finality of death can be as late as 12 years of age.  The Scriptures dedicate many verses to the subject of death: In the Psalms it tells us “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saint (116:15).” God also so tells us death is inevitable, he says it is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews 9:27). No one, rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy will escape this appointed life event. Just as God knew our birth, he knows our appointed time to die.  God does promise a better day in the future. He wants us to see past the death event to a better day. In the book of Revelation it is stated that God “shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying or pain (21:4)” but until that day how do we cope with the issue of death and loss?

Loss is often associated with the death of a loved one, but it has a greater involvement in every facet of our life. Loss can include separation and departures of those we love. It also can include our loss of romantic dreams, impossible expectations, illusions of freedom and power, illusion of safety or the loss of youthfulness. With many people, there is an unspoken agreement not to talk about the losses in their lives. When we don’t talk about the losses, they can haunt us the rest of our lives. There are several ways to identify losses.

Material loss --this is attachment to a physical object or familiar surroundings. A person may deny this attachment for fear of appearing materialistic. This is usually a child’s first loss, such as a broken toy or his dog ate his ice-cream cone. What is the most recent material loss you experienced?

Relational loss—this is the end of an opportunity to relate to another person, which includes talking with them, sharing experiences, or being physical and emotionally present with another person. This can include moving away, a divorce, growing up, or death. What is the most recent relationship loss you experienced?

Intra-psychic Loss—this is a loss of how you view yourself. This can include having to change personal plans or giving up a dream. It can include when someone loses courage, faith or hope. This is very hard for a person to share with others. Has your self-view changed recently?

Functional Loss—this is the loss of muscular or physical functioning of the body. This can come by age, illness or accident. What significant physical changes have occurred in the last 5 years of your life?

Role Loss—this is the loss of a social role in some social network. It can include no longer being married, change in career, church, children growing up, retirement, etc.  Has your role in life changed?

Systemic Loss-This is when someone leave the group and there is an imbalance in the system. This could occur when a well-liked coworker leaves, or a child goes off to college. The group system will never be the same. Has this systemic loss happened in your life?

Ambiguous Loss—is a very difficult and unrecognized loss. This can be the missing soldier, kidnapped child, where the person is missing and there is no body or personal items to help with closure. This also includes people that are present but psychologically absent. Examples are Alzheimer’s patients, addicts, and chronic mentally ill. Ambiguous loss remains unclear and undefined. This is one of the most devastating losses because there is no closure so the loss continues.

Disenfranchised Loss—this is a new category of grief that the person experiencing it cannot express it publically. This can include lovers, friends, foster parents, colleagues, and roommates. This stems from the belief that you should only grieve the loss of family members. Children are included because they are often disregarded as unable to understand death enough to grieve the person’s loss.

How do you progress through these dark hours and days?

A person must become aware of the type of loss and the emotions associated with grieving the loss. Also a person needs to identify personal steps needed to  experience feelings, past and present, at each stage of loss. All of us wish to live in safe and comfortable circumstances. Events will occur and take us by surprise negatively affecting our lives. Catastrophic losses involving natural or man-made disasters, crises, accidents, assaults, violence, abuse or death are outside of our daily routines and comfort level. People can be found dealing with trauma reactions to these situations in addition to intense feelings of grief.

Most people will go through steps of grief after any type of loss. Each person’s experience may vary greatly from others in the family, or community. Thus causing them to feel ‘weird’, ‘different’ or as if s/he are ‘going crazy.’

It is important to identify these steps and feelings, sharing with others and knowing others have experienced them also. This can help people to understand their own personal journeys through grief and feel supported in the process.

Everyone grieves yet every person grieves differently. There is no exact plan for grieving. Many people experience similar emotions or steps of grief. As you begin this process you need to ‘journal’ your thoughts and responses. Sharing your journey is important also. Share these steps, emotions and thoughts with a trusted person.

1.     Think about one of your losses. Write it down.

2.     Identify the emotions you are experiencing: Common emotions associated with loss are as follows, also add additional ones you are experiencing. Write them down.


3.     Visualize staircase steps start in the basement and rise to the first floor. Each emotion you have identified has its own ‘step’ moving progressively upward toward the top step-ACCEPTANCE.

SHOCK is always the bottom step.

SHOCK (the first emotion of a loss) –make notes about your experience share with a trusted person.

  • ·        What did you do?
  • ·        What did you think?
  • ·        What did you say?

Are you finished with this step (emotion)? Stay on each step to think, feel and make notes.

Are you ready for another step?

4.     Continue up the stairway, asking the same question at each step, and recording your thoughts, feelings and actions.

Pause, reflect, write and share as you continue up the steps until reaching the top.

This method is simplistic but effective. Remember that not all persons experience these steps (emotions) after a loss, repeat steps if necessary, there is no time limit on a step, they can be in a different order, and all steps are unique and normal.

Also, if you have been chosen as a ‘trusted friend” in someone’s grief process please do not shy away just be a good listener. There is a therapeutic value in telling your story to a genuine and understanding person. Someday you will need a ‘trusted friend’ to reciprocate. God has given us relationships with Himself and others for these difficult times in our lives. Always remember grief is a process not an event.






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