Walking through the 6 Stages of Grief

Apr 4 / Peter Piñón
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Hello, my friends. Today, it’s been two years since my father passed away. Grief has been my constant companion during this time, and I’ve learned that it is a natural and essential part of the healing process. 

In these years, I have reflected on my father's life, written about him, visited his grave, shed many tears, and laughed remembering his countless stories.  

I’ve experienced the six stages of grief in different ways and at different times. Before we dive into the stages, let's quickly recap the first five stages from the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a grief expert. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. David Kessler, another grief expert (who was mentored by Kubler-Ross), identified the sixth stage, meaning. Let me walk you through how I’ve experienced these stages.  

Stage 1: Denial 

Denial was the first stage for me, as I struggled to accept the reality of my father's loss. I found myself thinking that he would knock on the door at any moment. He had a very distinct, powerful way of knocking.  

I’d also have to wake up and remind myself that it wasn’t just a nightmare. My mind and heart didn’t want to believe that he was gone.  

Stage 2: Anger 

But, as the days and weeks passed, the reality sank in, and I moved into the stage of anger. I was angry at the world and even at God for not healing him. I would drive around hoping someone would pick a fight with me, so I could unleash the beast I felt inside of me. Don’t worry, it never happened. I’ve still never hit anyone. I’m more of a lover than a fighter. That’s why the anger surprised so much.  

Stage 3: Bargaining 

Bargaining came next. I found myself thinking that if I had done things differently, or if I had been known more about the medical treatment processes, maybe my father would still be with me. With all of us. With stage came so many other questions too. Most without any answers. But I still listened to them and heard my heart out. If I had it, I asked it.  

Stage 4: Depression 

Depression followed, as I struggled with the overwhelming sadness and emptiness that filled my life. Everything that used to matter now felt meaningless. The question, “What’s the point?” was constantly popping up in my head. Because I have a history with depression and anxiety, both of those issues can back stronger than ever. Side note: anxiety can be another stage can show up at point in the process.  

Stage 5: Acceptance 

Acceptance was a turning point for me. It was a gradual process, but as time went on, I came to accept that my father was gone, and that I had to find a way to move forward. Not get over his loss. Not find someone to replace him—that would be impossible. Just move forward.  

Stage 6: Meaning 

Finally, I entered the stage of meaning, where I began to look for ways to honor my father's memory and find a sense of purpose in the reality my loss and the life I could still have. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be just like him, even though I didn’t look as much like him as I wanted to. Now, I feel like he passed the “mantle” to me. I know I can’t be the Peter Piñon he was, he was one of a kind, but I can be the best Peter Piñon I can be. 
(Note on the picture, my father was a Master Gardener, so it seemed only fitting to show the process in plant form)

It's worth mentioning that you don’t have to “reach” each stage, and it's not linear. Each stage is not a goal to achieve. The stages are more about giving us language to describe our experience.  

Some people have felt like it would be dishonoring their loved one to feel or find meaning again. Others have rushed or forced themselves to this stage. Please remember this: Take. Your. Time.  

And sometimes we may move back and forth between stages as we navigate our grief. That’s what mourning is all about: moving through the stages as they come. Not trying to rush through them. I’ve spent time in every stage. Every stage mattered.  

 To be clear, I’m summarizing my experience at a high level in hopes that it helps you, but the journey through grief is different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve, just healthy and unhealthy ways. My journey has been more complex I’ve described, but maybe I share that complexity another time.  

I have learned that it is essential to allow myself to feel all the emotions that come with grief, and to seek support from those around me. It's okay to cry, to be angry, to feel lost or overwhelmed. It's all part of the process. 

As I prepare for another 365 days without my father, I’m grateful for the lessons that his life and loss have taught me, but I still wish he was still here. So, while I learn to live and love life without him, I will continue to honor his memory by continuing his legacy of loving and serving people and finding meaning in even the most challenging situations. 

And I hope that, if you are experiencing grief, you can find comfort in knowing you are not alone, and that healing is possible. Let’s keep walking through the stages together. 

On Death and Dying 
By Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Finding Meaning 
By David Kessler

I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye
by Brooke Noel & Pam Blair

A Grief Observed 
By C.S. Lewis

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