How Does One Cope with Change?

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the pioneer in placing the various stages of grieving into five categories:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

I recently had the humbling experience of being an “on call” support line for a very dear friend for the past two months after her father sustained a significant physical trauma which resulted in his death last week.

As we talked (and sent phone text messages) daily over the past 7-8 weeks, the various stages of grief surfaced –  not in a semblance of order and definitely not in a linear fashion, but more similar to peaks and valleys.  In fact, during the short period of time of the visitation and funeral on Monday, my friend moved through some anger, depression, acceptance, back to depression, back to acceptance all through the course of a few hours.

I also had a recent conversation with a young woman who is experiencing another “death” of sorts – the death of her pre-baby marriage partnership.  She and her husband have moved to a very different marriage partnership which includes parenting of a new member of their family. Her emotions included anger (frustration) and depression (sadness) at the same time.

What this week has taught me is that death can occur not only in a physical form but also can be an emotional death and dying as well.  I recalled the time when I went through my divorce and the feelings I experienced were similar to those when someone close to me had died.  I moved through various stages of grief because I truly was experiencing a death at the time of my divorce –  the death of me… the very essence of who I had been in that relationship.

Anytime we deal with a significant change that alters or removes an emotional or physical presence in our lives, there is a potential that we will experience one or two stages of grief or we may go through the full cycle and range of emotions.

The one recurring theme that arose out of my conversations with the two women I spoke of earlier centered around the following:

  • We are human.
  • What we are feeling is normal for people going through similar experiences.
  • We are not bad or wrong for feeling the way we do and we have a right to have those feelings.
  • We are never alone.

Kübler-Ross started the conversation regarding the five stages of grief in response to those experiencing the physical aspects of death and dying but her grief model gives great insight into how we may react to any emotional and/or behavioral change that we may be undergoing at the time.

Do you agree that we can move quickly (within a matter of minutes or hours) between the various stages of grief when in the midst of any change that we may deem stressful or life-altering?



5 thoughts on “How Does One Cope with Change?

  1. Some days it feels like its too difficult to put one foot in front of the other and then something ever so small can happen that makes life seem once again like the gift it is! I’m finding that the loss we’ve endured goes from unbelievable heartache one day to we are so blessed the next….. Back and forth, back and forth. I wish it would level out, I wish we had our life as it was back again. How does one cope? I wish I knew.

  2. Bbt,

    I think what you are experiencing is very normal when a significant loss occurs in our lives – we move in and out of various stages as we are processing and coping. There really is no timetable for moving through grief but there are some tools that might be helpful to try and “level out” how we are feeling. One tool that has been shown to help improve our feelings of happiness is to utilize a “gratitude” journal. There are some studies out there that point to the power of creating positive thought by taking the time each night before we go to sleep and writing down 2-3 things we are grateful for. This practice is thought to allow our subconscious mind (which is in peak form when we are sleeping) to imbed those positive thoughts, thus helping us to become more positive.

    Will life go back to way it was? Most likely not…but can the “new” life be joyful and fulfilling? I believe the answer to that is “Absolutely” but it will take time and probably a little “work” to move to that new place of peace and joy and there will be peaks and valleys. Remember that life truly is a journey and journeys take time to complete…

    My prayers, thoughts and positive energy are flowing your way.


  3. Pat
    This is a great Blog. Thanks for sharing it.
    My interest peaked when I saw your posting as I still feel life I cannot (some days) get beyond the grief of Kim’s death. I have found myself stuck many times in the “denial” and “anger” stages… I know after a year it is time to take a look at this. I am going to do some research and use all the steps and search for completion of my grief going forward. At this point I know I am hurting myself in this stuck mode. thanks again, Pat.

    1. Kathi,

      Thank you for reading my blog and reaching out to me. I think about Kim on a regular basis – she is the one who surrounds me when I am feeling sorry for myself (reminding me that I have nothing to complain about), she is the one who is on my shoulder when I am out for a run reminding me that the reason I took up running was in honor of her at last year’s Race for the Cure. She is the reason I am passionate in the crusade to cure breast cancer. Kim is not gone by any means and in fact, I know she is sitting here with us as I write this post. I honestly do not know if we ever complete our grief but I do know it gets less painful over time. Have you read the book “Heaven is for Real” by Lynn Vincent and Todd Burpo? It is an incredible book about a little boy’s trip to Heaven. Kimmy Kay is in a great place – I know it in the deepest reaches of my heart…


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