When there is a loss a person goes through stages of grief.  Understanding how someone processes a loss can be helpful to a caregiver.

Stages of Grief

Many years ago, I was trying to help a family work through the death of the father of the family.  A nursing friend introduced me to the stages of grief.  Since then, I have found that grieving doesn’t always involve death like I thought at first.  Any loss can cause grieving.  There is more information about grieving at webmd here.

What Are the Stages of Grief?

  • Denial-this didn’t really happen, this isn’t happening or I can deal with this without any help.
  • Anger-directed at anyone, everyone, God, self, family, caregivers and/or strangers.
  • Bargaining-What can be done to regain the loss?  Bargaining can be directed towards self, God, family, caregivers, anyone, everyone.
  • Depression-This is really happening.  I can’t fix or change it.  I’m tired of trying.  I don’t want to go on.  There is no help or hope.
  • Acceptance- This is real I do not blame anyone.  I am grateful for the help.  I have hope that I can move forward from here.

What is a Loss?

A loss doesn’t have to be a death.  Sometimes it is the loss of a job, a relationship, or someone’s independence.  It can be property like a Precious Ring (see what I did there?) or the last of the ice cream.

It is impossible to make someone accept a loss or minimize its severity.  How a person deals with a loss is personal, it comes from within them, in their own time.  We can give encouragement, pep talks and scoldings but all of that won’t minimize the loss.

What Do Stages of Grief Teach about Processing Loss?

Everyone grieves differently.  Every loss is different.  As a support person, it helps to understand how each person grieves.  Someone once told me, “We usually deal with things the way we always have.”  In other words if a person doesn’t move to the acceptance stage after a loss, every loss after that will be devastating.  Some days, when every loss is piling on, the last of the ice cream is a severe loss. Also, if a person has always reacted to a sudden change of plans with anger, chances are they will continue to do so.

Is There An Order To the Stages of Grief?

acceptance of loss is like the peace of a sunset

When a grieving person reaches the acceptance stage after a loss, it is very much like the peace of a sunset on a calm lake.

Kind of…usually a loss is met at first with shock and disbelief (or denial).  Acceptance is the only resolution to any trauma, so it comes last.

Other than that, no one just moves through the list systematically.  Life and learning are messy.  So, most people slide back and forth among the grief stages, often returning to a stage they have already overcome.  Sometimes people are able to move through a stage easily and no one ( maybe not even themselves) knows they have worked through it.

The Blame Game

In the society that we live in, we must first place blame, then we can move on to solving the problem.  Everything that happens to us (mostly negatively) must be someone’s fault and then we can grieve properly.

The blame game makes it hard for a support person to help.  A good example is when someone can no longer care for themselves and their support person becomes their caregiver or finds them care (either permanently or temporarily).  The person who has had to give up their independence many times blames their support person for taking away that independence.

This blame game is involved in every stage of grief except acceptance.  No one wins this game and the rules always change.  Knowing the game is afoot does help though.

How Does Knowing Help as a Caregiver?

It helps to know how your individual grieves.  It also helps to know that this loss will now be your fault.  Own it.  Use it.  It will help you to establish the ground rules in your relationship moving forward.

My purpose as a caregiver is to help someone to live independently for as long as possible.  Most of the time that has been helping until they could take the independence back, but for some the independence is less and less.

Understanding that:

  • there is a grief process.
  • since it is a process, a person moves back and forth in the stages and it takes as long as it takes.
  • there is a blame game.
  • every loss, large or small, causes grief in varying degrees.

and that:

  • we all deal with things the way we always have.

gives me freedom from guilt.  Because this loss is not my fault, I can quit taking things personally.  It also gives me compassion and strength to take charge of what I need to and let go what isn’t vital.

Whether you are just starting on this journey of caregiving or are a seasoned traveler, I hope understanding the stages of grief blesses your life and the life of the one you are caring for.


Rhonda Brown lives in rural eastern Montana, surrounded by her family, chickens, gardens and dog. When she isn't writing or weeding, she loves spending time with her family, baking, and all things CHOCOLATE.


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