Articles, Career Development

Developmental Psychology: Examining the Five Stages of Coping with Death

Examining the Five Stages of Coping with Death

by Denise N. Fyffe


Accepting the death and dying process is extremely hard. Dying is something that everyone will go through. People may feel angry, sad, or frightened and may blame themselves or think they have done something wrong. These feelings are common.

This process is known as grief.

Grief is a process of physical, emotional, social, and cognitive reactions to loss. The grieving process is often a hard one to work through.

The Five Stages of Grief

There are five stages, which are a part of the grieving process and assist in coping with the process of grief. It should be noted that although most people experience all the stages, they do not experience them with the same duration, in the same order, or with the same intensity. It is an incredibly unique process.

The following are the five stages of the dying process.


Denial is the first stage in the grief process. According to Dr. Kubler-Ross (2005), this is a healthy stage and permits an individual to develop other defenses. It can be experienced as numbness or avoidance or isolation or direct denial.

It is a stage in which we just cannot believe that the loss is true. We may tell ourselves that it did not really happen or that it does not seem real. People can slip back into this stage when there are new developments, or the person feels they can no longer cope.


Another stage of grief is anger. At this point, one has gotten past some or all the denial, but no one is angry about the loss. We may want to take it out on something or someone, or we may just express our anger in ways that are familiar to us (Godin, 2000). According to Kubler-Ross, 2005 there are different ways of expression:

  • Anger at God: “Why me?” Feeling that others are more deserving.
  • Envy of others: Other people don’t seem to care; they are enjoying life while the dying person experiences pain. Others aren’t dying.
  • Projected on the environment: Anger towards doctors, nurses, and families. Often you are angry because you do not have control over what is happening to you.


In the bargaining stage, we are trying to come up with ways to get back what we lost or just find someone or something to blame. This is a way you try to avoid death.

You make a secret deal with yourself or sometimes with God. You promise that you will do things right or better if you can just have a little more time. Common thoughts include “If only I had just …” or “I wish we could have….” or “Maybe if I do this….” 


The depression stage is a time of sadness. It follows denial, anger, and bargaining when we feel helpless and hopeless to stop the loss. It may include crying, withdrawal, or any other way that expresses sadness (Godin, 2000).


The final stage is acceptance. This can happen if you are open to all the feelings, frustrations, and issues that happen when you face death. It is a feeling of peace and calm. It is accepting what is happening in your life (Kubler-Ross, 2005). Most often we have gone through all the above stages and in many cases cycled through the above stages more than once before getting to acceptance.

At this stage, we have (to some extent) reorganized our thinking to incorporate the loss. This does not mean that we no longer experience sadness about the loss from time to time, but sadness is now a part of us and does not keep us from functioning normally most of the time. Over time, the intensity diminishes, but may never entirely go away (Godin, 2000).





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