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Shock, disbelief, rage, and overwhelming despair are among the most common grief reactions people experience when tragedy occurs. Usually, a person who is suffering from loss goes through various emotions before he or she can begin to accept what has happened and move on. Everybody has a different way of coping, and sometimes, grief reactions are unpredictable. The Kübler-Ross theory, which classifies five stages of grief, lists the experiences that people typically endure following a significant loss. These include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.
When most people think of grief, they usually associate it with death and sickness, but it can strike after any significant loss or tragedy. For some individuals, it may occur after losing a job. For others, the end of a marriage may be the cause of despair. Regardless of the reason, each person will usually go through a host of emotions they may have never expected.
Denial is often the first of many grief reactions people experience. It is quite a powerful defense mechanism, especially when the truth is simply too painful. Immediately following the news that a loved one has passed away or other tragic event has occurred, a person may act as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Instead, they may choose to disbelieve it altogether. Sometimes, people even accuse others of lying to them.
During this stage of grief, for example, the person may expect a supposedly deceased spouse to walk in the door at any moment. When that does not happen, eventually, anger may replace denial. The grieving individual may blame medical personnel, friends, other family members, or even himself for the loss of a loved one. Lawsuits are most frequently filed at this stage. Grief reactions may also include self-destructive behaviors, such as violence or excessive alcohol and drug use.
Some people remain at the anger stage of grief for a very short time, while for others, it lasts longer. At some point, bargaining begins. Depending on the tragedy that occurred, the type of desperate negotiations that take place can vary. People may plead with doctors or even offer more money to save the life of their loved one. Sometimes, the heartbroken person bargains with God.
When all other efforts have failed, depression inevitably sets in. The person may sleep too much, or not be able to rest at all. He may lose interest in everything that once brought him enjoyment. Sometimes, the sadness and despair is so overwhelming that he may even have suicidal thoughts, believing that things will never get better. Physical symptoms may develop and the grieving individual may even become ill.
People may remain in the stage of depression for a few weeks or several years. Sometimes they vacillate between other grief reactions. Eventually, though, acceptance occurs. At that point, the individual is able to start rebuilding his life, accepting that there is nothing that can be done to change what has happened. He makes peace with his loss and is able to move on.