Death and Bereavement

Key Concept

At different points in our life we need to face the death of people close to us and at some stage it becomes essential to face and prepare for our own death. This Transition is often taboo, is not spoken about and when it comes, it brings considerable hardship – mainly because of a lack of preparation.


As we get older, friends and family die around us. This module provides some insight into the grieving process.

On Death and Dying – Elisabeth KÜbler-Ross

Working with terminally ill patients in the 1960s, Dr Kubler-Ross identified 5 stages in the dying process. While the 5 stages are presented in a specific order, it does not mean that the pattern will be the same for everyone.

1st Stage – Denial and Isolation

“There must be some mistake, the test results are from someone else, they’ve not been interpreted properly”. Denial acts as a buffer, allows time for one to collect one’s thoughts. We cannot face death all the time so denial is used. The way that imminent death is presented is important and it is easier if it has been spoken about when the reaper isn’t yet standing at the door. Isolation is when we talk about our death as if it were happening to a twin.

2nd Stage – Anger

Difficult to deal with as it is always displaced. Patients always find grievances and their anger is a call to be noticed, to be seen as important. In strong controlling types anger is directed at self – for not having the power to make a terminal illness go away. Anger is also directed at self in the “new age” tendency to blame oneself for getting ill.

3rd Stage – Bargaining

The patient goes from anger to “making a deal”. Bargaining is an attempt to postpone – If I’m nice/good this can be avoided and is the prize for good behaviour. Most bargains are made with God, because God has the power to make death go away.

4th Stage – Depression

Exacerbated by the cost of treatment – that it gobbles up all one’s assets. Depression takes two forms.

Reactionary: the need to share information, talk about what will be lost and the need to encourage others so that they get on with their lives.

Preparatory : this is silent and is best supported by someone just being there, sitting quietly, possibly holding the patient’s hands, soothing their troubled brow.

5th Stage – Acceptance

If the patient has sufficient time, they get through anger and depression to acceptance. It is not a “giving up” - it is a quiet acceptance, void of feelings. At this stage the family needs more support than the patient, who often just wants to be left alone. For the patient it is a time of peace and dignity. The harder one fights death the harder it is to reach this peaceful state.


Hope persists throughout – that all the pain and suffering must have some meaning, and that hope, often results in a temporary remission so the patient can go home to die.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Understanding the bereavement process

The better your understanding of grief and how it is healed, the better equipped you’ll be to help yourself, a bereaved friend or family member.

It is not only the dying person who goes through Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages – they are also experienced by friends and family of the dying person. However, not everyone who is grieving goes through all of these stages – and that’s okay. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.

  • There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief does not always unfold in orderly, predictable stages. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, with unpredictable highs, lows, and setbacks. Everyone grieves differently, so avoid telling the bereaved what they “should” be feeling or doing.
  • Grief may involve extreme emotions and behaviours. Feelings of guilt, anger, despair, and fear are common. A grieving person may yell to the heavens, obsess about the death, lash out at loved ones, or cry for hours on end. The bereaved need reassurance that what they’re feeling is normal. Others must try not to judge them or take their grief reactions personally.
  • There is no set timetable for grieving. For many people, recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the grieving process may be longer or shorter

What is grief?

Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one – and this type of loss does often cause the most intense grief. But any loss can cause grief, including:

  • A relationship breakup
  • Loss of health
  • Losing a job
  • Loss of financial stability
  • A miscarriage
  • Death of a pet
  • Loss of a cherished dream
  • A loved one’s serious illness
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of safety after a trauma

The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. However, even subtle losses can lead to grief. For example, you might experience grief after moving away from home, graduating from college, changing jobs, selling your family home, or retiring from a career you loved.

Everyone grieves differently

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried – and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Myths and Facts about Grief

  • MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.
  • Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.
  • MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.
  • Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.
  • MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
  • Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.
  • MYTH: Grief should last about a year.
  • Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes differs from person to person.

Source: Center for Grief and Bereavement

Discussion Assignment : Death and Bereavement

As we get older we will be faced with the death of friends and family (and of course, our own). Many people are completely shattered by the death of someone close and have no-one they can talk to. So this assignment is to share an experience of yours – your sharing may help someone else.

My experience of the death of someone close was ... 

A Note about the Blog Assignments in this Section:

Because thinking about death is something we tend to shy away from, it would be very easy to look at these Modules and have really good intentions of getting “a round tuit” – and then not do it!

But this section is like doing your Tax Return – you have to do it sometime. So do it before penalties apply. In the case of your death, it is your family who will pay the “penalty” if you don’t do it.

So the Assignments will assume that you have taken the necessary action and will ask you to “talk” about what came up for you / what you found difficult / what you’ve avoided.

The role of the programme will be to nudge you into completing the tasks – once done, you and your family can get on with having a blast in your retirement .

Discussion Forum

Next module : My Living Will

It is essential that you prepare for your death – if only to relieve friends and family of the burden of having to settle your affairs and arrange your funeral.

Next Module