Updated 28 June 2013

The phases of grief

The process of bereavement may be described as having four phases.

People cope with the loss of a loved one in different ways. Most people who experience grief will cope well. Others will have severe grief and may need treatment.

The process of bereavement is generally described as having four phases. It is important, though, to note that not everyone who grieves necessarily goes through all these stages and the order may be different.

Shock and numbness

Family members find it difficult to believe the death; they feel stunned and numb.

Yearning and searching

Survivors experience separation anxiety and cannot accept the reality of the loss. They try to find and bring back the lost person and feel ongoing frustration and disappointment when this is not possible.

Disorganisation and despair

Family members feel depressed and find it difficult to plan for the future. They are easily distracted and have difficulty concentrating and focusing.


In this final phase, the grieving family members begin to adapt and rebuild their inner world. Though grief never ends, the thoughts of sadness and despair diminish and positive memories of the deceased start taking over. 

(Source: National Cancer Institute)


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