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Friday, June 7, 2019

The Five Stages of Grief for Widows

What do the Five Stages of Grief mean for me?

In this article, we discuss the adapted model of the Five Stages of Grief, as they relate to the life of a widow surviving the death of a spouse.


The Five Stages of Grief as they relate to the Widow

We have all heard of the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed this model of grief and published it in 1969, based on her extensive work with terminally ill patients. It’s pretty well understood in the scientific community that these 5 stages aren’t linear in the way they present, and different people may experience all, some, or even none of them.

Again, this model was based on her specific experience with terminally ill patients, not with the grieving spouses. You may have experienced watching your spouse go through this process if they were diagnosed with a terminal illness, but many of us experienced the sudden death of our spouse.

Once the death occurs, we are then fully in the grief process, so the above 5 stages are likely to occur with no predictability in sight. It’s common for someone to describe the “roller coaster” of emotion that they may experience in any given day or week.

How the five stages work in the loss of a spouse

Denial is our mind’s way of protecting us from the severity of the grief to follow and allows you to live in an alternate reality. For instance, we might hold on to the hope that someone wrongly ID’d our spouse’s body before calling us.

Anger often stems from the thought “Why me?” or “Why did God allow this to happen?”

Bargaining happens when we begin to plead for a change. “If you change this, then I’ll change that.”

Depression is a sign that we are beginning to live in the reality of the death of our spouse and is very commonly associated with grief. Signs of depression are not wanting to talk with others or leave the house, a basic withdrawal from our previous life.

Acceptance is sometimes misinterpreted as feeling “okay” with the death of our spouse. However, this is more apparent when we believe that we will eventually be okay and that we are having good days more often than bad days.

In a week, we may have uncontrollable tears one day, acceptance one day and then the next feel depressed and not want to leave the bed. That’s ok, and experiencing the roller coaster of emotions is, unfortunately, a reality that grieving spouses have to face.

What happens at the stage of Acceptance? 

Do we just go on with life in our new sense of normal, or is there something else working in our minds that help us through our journey?

David Kessler, a grief expert, and author, through his own personal losses, has added a 6th stage of grief for those of us living through it.

Finding Meaning.

In his book, “Finding Meaning: the 6th stage of grief” Kessler gives us his insight on how we can transform the way that we move forward from complete despair to honoring our spouse in a loving way. Because we are still amongst the living, we do have the need to continue on and many people already attempt to find the meaning behind it all. Although my meaning will be different than yours or someone else’s, having a roadmap that can help us to navigate toward a brighter future is highly beneficial.


Thank you for spending time with us today.

We hope this helps you either process your own grief or understand those in your life going through it. Please check out our Resources page for more articles and some links to the tools we've found helpful. For more about who we are, click About Us.

Adrianne and Darrell, fellow Widows/Widowers