The Stages of Grief

I’d like to welcome back author and counselor Betsy Duffey today as she discusses grief. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of their fantastic novel, The Shepherd’s Songif you need an uplifting group of intertwined short stories surrounding Psalm 23.

I’m giving away a hard cover copy of this novel! Leave a comment on this post to be eligible. Winner drawn on Sunday, May 3rd.

Grief is something that is dealt with a lot in novels but did you know that there are some very classic grief stages? These stages can give you some writing fodder for your characters.

Welcome back, Betsy.

When you are writing about grief, it’s helpful to know the emotional stages that a character might experience after loss. The stages of grief were defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. Knowing where your character is in the stages of grief will allow you write more realistically. Here is an overview with some ideas about what your character might say and do in each stage. Remember that people go through the stages at their own pace. Resolving grief can take years, and people can cycle back through the stages as they heal.
Denial: Denial is almost always the first reaction to loss. It looks like numbness or shock. Subconsciously, this is a way for the person to protect themselves. In this stage the person may seem uncaring.

If your character is in the denial stage they will say things like:

I thought I heard him last night.
Every time I answer the phone I expect it to be her.
It must be a mistake.
Bargaining: Bargaining can been seen in two ways. One, the person can’t stop thinking about what they could have done to prevent the loss. The other can be a bargaining with God to reverse the loss.

If your character is in this stage of grief they will say things like:

If only I had stopped him.
If I had gone with her it never would have happened.
God, if you save him I will never  . . . again.
Depression: Eventually most people recognize the true extent of the loss and can experience depression. This can make others uncomfortable and worried, but is an important part of the healing process.

If your character is experiencing depression from grief they will say things like:

I can’t stop crying.
I’m not hungry.
Nobody understands.
Anger: Grief can cause a person to feel helpless and out of control leading to anger. The person can be angry at God or in the case of a death, at the person who died. Guilt often follows the anger. Anger is often expressed at others.

If your character is experiencing anger in grief they will say things like:

Leave me alone!
It’s your fault! It’s the doctor’s fault!  It’s God’s fault!
God let this happen!
Acceptance: As people heal and move through the various stages of grief, they finally will come to acceptance. This can take years and may not ever happen.

If your character is in acceptance they will say things like:

We had so many good times.
I can see God working in this.
I remember when…
The stages of grief can be demonstrated with loss due to death, but people experience other losses that can take them into these stages. Loss of a job, moving from your home, sending a child to college, losing ability through illness. The list is endless. Knowing these stages can add depth to your writing as you take your character through grief to healing.


Betsy Duffey is a licensed counselor and also a writer. She grew up in a writing family and with her sister, Laurie Myers, began critiquing manuscripts at an early age for their mother, Newbery winner Betsy Byars.  Betsy and Laurie went on to become authors of more than thirty-five children’s novels. Their first book for adults, The Shepherd’s Song, is being released in paperback  April 2015. You can connect with Laurie and Betsy on their monthly newsletter where they send out updates and their popular free devotional books. Contact them at  and find them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

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