Loss Cycle – Pattern and Stages of Bereavement

When we lose something precious to us we start to experience a gamut of emotions. It’s like being on an awful uncontrollable roller-coaster. There are sudden downs, when we might cry, seemingly for no reason. Or we want to rip some heads off – we are SO FURIOUS! Sometimes, hours or days later we are suddenly ‘up’ and happy again…then CRASH! – we go ‘down’ again and start feeling all the emotions over again.

This roller-coaster can be better understood if you see it as a necessary and ‘normal’ journey helping us to get through this sad time. In order to process the dramatic changes we need to go through different stages of grieving. It is a far gentler way than experiencing each phase intently for long periods of time.

It happens to us in ‘stages’ and allows us to pace ourselves so that we don’t implode, explode or collapse mentally. We have to go through this thorny dark wilderness at times but also we need to feel calm and happier at other times (we need a soothing balm!), which is why the process is staggered. If we look after ourselves during this strange and painful time, we can come out of it more self-aware, more empathic, more resilient and certainly more emotionally intelligent. So let’s look at a simplified version of this Loss Cycle (proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969) so that it makes a bit more sense:


Dramatic changes need some time to be processed. This is why the state of shock is there to absorb and cushion the first ‘wave’. This is a gentle way to understand a shocking turn of events. You may feel numb, somewhat in denial and taking a while to really absorb what has happened.


This stage happens when we are furious at the change or loss and are pumped up, fired up and want to reject the change. We are very likely to blame others. We feel incredibly hurt and indignant. Life seems very unfair!


This stage is reached when we may feel more guilt and shame. We may wish we could have changed the situation. Possibly been able to stop that awful accident? Even believe we could have changed the path of the current circumstance. We feel shakey with self doubt and thinking lots of blaming thoughts.


This is when we may try to influence events and try and make amends with injured parties. Try to make that relationship work even though nothing can change.

The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is a need to regain control. We find ourselves trying to analyse the past and the relationship and waiver between ‘blame/shame’ as we search for reasons why.


We may not be able to sleep, or eat, or not feel able to function at all. Alternatively, over-sleeping or experiencing apathy and lethargy may pervade your every day. Life can seem very bleak and dark. Thoughts seems foggy and slow. Our radius of activity is reduced considerably. This is nature keeping us out of harms way when we are not at our best. Therefore we are slowed down so we can lick our wounds and seek shelter for a while.


You reach this stage when you wake up one morning and feel like you have walked through a veil of grey into colourful Spring. Feeling more chipper and upbeat, your thinking is clearer, positive and more productive. We feel invigorated and alive. This simplified version of the loss cycle tempers and smooths out more and more over the passage of time. As they say, ‘time is a great healer’. Indeed the ‘rollercoaster ride’ will enable this necessary trajectory to become calmer and less extreme. Until one day we are more in control of our emotions, feeling stronger and thinking more positively.