Understanding the Seven Steps of Grief

There are seven steps every family goes through when they lose a loved one. It knocks you off your normal path of life and, at times, onto a very painful path. Someday, you'll get back to your normal life, but during this time, your life is definitely not normal. Over the years, we have seen every family go through these same steps.

It’s important that you know these steps have nothing to do with cremation versus burial or even how much someone spends on a service.

The first step on this painful path is a sense of private shock, a deep feeling of I’ll never see him or her again.

At this point, many people feel physical pain. The heart races, you become short of breath, and you become lightheaded. Tears aren't far behind.

For some people, this lasts just a few minutes; for others, this can last weeks, months, or years.

Next, word begins to spread. Many times, this task will fall on the shoulders of one or two family members. Making the phone calls and spreading the news. Word first spreads through the immediate family, and then the extended family—brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren. This might take a few hours or even a few days.

Inevitably, what happens next is the family gathers to support each other and to make pressing decisions, such as who’s going to go to the funeral home to make arrangements.

You may have already been nominated or you know the task is going to fall on your shoulders. We know it’s a big responsibility. It's important for you to know that it's our mission to help you help your family. Let's talk about what's coming next.

Receiving condolences is the next step on the path. The process of spreading the word continues for days after the loss of a loved one. All of the family may know pretty quickly, but now the community of people around you gradually begins to find out over the next few days. Your friends, your coworkers, and your neighbors all have one burning desire: to say, "I’m so sorry for your loss." You may have already heard it from some people.

It may surprise you to learn that 65% of people who come to a memorial service tribute didn’t know the deceased directly. They knew the family or a family member and are coming to support them.

As people learn the news, they all experience some degree of private shock. Their first thought will be, "I hope they're OK." They will feel a deep emotional need to gather around you and support you. Next, they will continue to spread the news—amongst other friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.

All of these people are jumping on the path with you and your family, and they all want the opportunity to say that they’re sorry for your loss. This need to express condolences is part of our basic human nature.

The next step is called public mourning. While the people around you will need to express their condolences, you and your family will be going through an emotional time of mourning.

That’s how something as deeply personal as mourning or expressing the loss of a loved one becomes a public event. You may feel like everyone is watching you. You may be processing your private memories of your loved one, and well-meaning people will want to support you.

The mourning step can be either very painful or very helpful. In a painful mourning, people focus on the death and on how you and your family are dealing with the loss.

In a helpful mourning, the focus is upon celebration of the life that your loved one lived. It helps you to mourn; yet, it takes the focus off of you and puts it upon your loved one’s life, where it should be. Mourning is all about processing memories. Focusing on the stories of your loved one’s life helps you do that.

Eventually, it will be time to say your final goodbye to your loved one. The final goodbye is the next step on the path. Whether you are choosing cremation or traditional burial, when you say goodbye for the last time, you're really closing the book on the set of memories that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

How you go through these last three steps—condolences, public mourning, and final goodbye—directly dictates what happens in the concluding step.

The last step is private grief. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one can tell you that grief is very real. Some people find that there's a physical pain associated with it, just like the private shock of finding out that your loved one has died.

The things that remind you of the deceased can trigger grief. It could be a photograph, a chair, a crochet needle, or even the smell of aftershave.

But the most painful triggers can come a few months later, when people keep saying they’re sorry for your loss. You might be ready to get back onto the normal path of life, yet well-meaning people may keep pulling you back into grief. A farewell tribute event provides a time and place for people to visit with you to express their condolences, so that all may move forward through private grief and on to emotional healing.

The seven universal steps of a loss begin with private shock, then word spreads, next the family gathers, you will begin receiving condolences, you’ll experience public mourning, you'll say your final goodbye, and conclude with private grief. If your loved one has already passed, you and your family are on this path right now.

At Moles Farewell Tributes, we specialize in walking this path with you. We will manage the details so that your family and friends can focus on the life your loved one lived and cherish the stories one more time.