In the 1960s, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist studied terminally ill patients and found that they went through a grieving process that encompassed six stages. These stages are also known as the grief cycle. This cycle of grief applies to other devastating events. People who have experienced the death of a loved one including a pet, or a divorce can also experience the six stages of grief.
When you first get devastating news of your own terminal illness, the terminal illness or death of a loved one, or a life-impacting event such as a divorce or natural disaster, your first reaction is shock. You don't want to believe it. You don't know how to react. You become confused and disoriented.
The second stage of grief is denial. During this stage, you try to pretend that the problem doesn't exist. You say to yourself, "This is really not happening to me," or you close your eyes and say, "This is all a mistake. When I open my eyes, it will be gone."
Once you begin to accept the truth of the situation, you go from denial to anger. During this stage, you experience feelings of hostility over the lack of control you have. These feelings are stronger if you've always wanted to be in control. You may find yourself taking your anger out on others, even though they have no control of, and were not the cause of, the situation.
Even if you were never a religious person or believed in God, you may find yourself trying to bargain with God. You might start praying and telling yourself that you will be a better person if God undoes the problem. If the situation is a divorce, you may find yourself bargaining with your spouse.
You may find yourself going into a deep depression during this fifth stage of grief. You might discover you experience extreme mood shifts. This stage can last over an extended period of time. Don't be afraid to seek out help from a professional grief counselor or therapist. It's also important to understand that everyone grieves differently. Don't try to compare yourself to others who have been through similar situations.
Once you have reached this final stage, you will be able to do what is necessary to live in the present and look to the future. For people who have accepted their terminal illness, this is the stage in which they can tie up lose ends before they die.