Stages of Grief are Similar to Disaster Behavior

After a natural disaster we grieve for the loss of the life we've known.

 When we think of grieving, more often than not it’s in the context of what people go through when a loved one has passed on. But when you think about it a little deeper, we grieve for a multitude of other things as well. For instance, we grieve when we’ve lost our job or our home, during a relationship break-up; children grieve when their parents divorce, and substance abusers grieve when they come to the realization that what they are doing is harmful to themselves and others who care about them.

After a natural disaster such as Super Storm Sandy, we grieve for the loss of the familiar life and its standard routines that we’ve known—and usually take for granted as fixed and impermeable.

Perhaps the greatest authority on grieving was Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and Dying (1969). In her groundbreaking research, Kubler-Ross uncovered five stages of grief experienced by those who were dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What Kubler-Ross further determined was that not only did the person who was passing on go through these stages, but their loved ones did as well – just from a different perspective.

Over the subsequent decades since Kubler-Ross’ insightful work, therapists became aware that people grieve throughout their lives, to varying degrees and for different reasons. And no matter what people grieved about, they usually followed a similar pattern.

Here’s what grieving might look like in the instances given above – you’ll note some are the same no matter the circumstance:

• Denial –Person passing on: I can’t be dying; I feel fine.

Person left behind: You can’t die; there is a cure.

Person experiencing natural disaster: I don’t deserve this! It didn’t happen.

Relationship break-up: They don’t mean it; I can win him/her back.

Child of divorce: This can’t be happening; they’ll get back together.

Substance abuser: I don’t have a problem. I can stop anytime.

• Anger –Person passing on: Why me? This is so unfair!

Person left behind: Why me? Who can I blame?

Person experiencing natural disaster: Why me? Who can I blame?

Relationship break-up: This is so unfair! I don’t deserve this!

Child of divorce: Why did they leave? I hate mom/dad!

Substance abuser: I am so mad (at myself, at my dealer, at my parents, at society) - because I can’t do drink/smoke/drug anymore!

• Bargaining – Person passing on: I’ll do anything for more time.

Person left behind: I’ll do anything for more time.

Person experiencing natural disaster: Maybe if I take a pay cut/maybe the bank or insurance company will help get me out of this.

Relationship break-up: I can change; give me another chance; let’s be friends.

Child of divorce: Maybe if I’m really good, they won’t leave.

Substance abuser: I promise I’ll never use again.

• Depression – Person passing on: I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?

Person left behind: My loved one is gone; I’ll never see them again.

Person experiencing natural disaster: I’ve lost everything; there is no hope.

Relationship break-up: Nothing is working,; I can’t get them back.

Child of divorce: They really broke up; I don’t matter to them.

Substance abuser: Note - depression is a normal response to withdrawal.

• Acceptance – Person passing on: I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.

Person left behind: It’s going to be okay. They would want me to go on with my life.

Person experiencing natural disaster: I can get another job/home; it may not be what I had, but it will be something as I rebuild my life.

Relationship break-up: It’s really over; I can move on.

Child of divorce: They aren’t getting back together; my life is different now.

Substance abuser: I have a problem; I want to figure out why and how to besr deal with it.

Enter Time Perspective Therapy

In Time Perspective Therapy, we have added a sixth stage: Future Positive Time Perspective.

Miracles happen during disasters.

Once we’ve accepted our circumstances and realize there is no turning back the hands of time, we plan a course for a brighter future. During Super Storm Sandy miracles were happening in every state that suffered her wrath. While lives and livelihoods were being torn asunder, babies were being born! These gifts to the world will carry on and hopefully will do great things in the future. They will create and work at jobs we can’t even imagine. And we too will go on. We will be a part of creating new and more efficient industries, products and ways of living. Like many of our forefathers who created this great nation, we will have the opportunity to start fresh. It will be hard, but together, we can do it.

If you are grieving – allow yourself the time to gracefully walk through the stages and in the back of your mind, know that you will pull through this eventually. Try to be open to those who want to share their emotional burden; they mean well. If you know someone who is grieving, sometimes a hug and a sign of compassion along with a message of hope for a brighter future is all they really need. The Future is Hope, Change, Possibility, Potentiality - these give us the wings to soar to new destinations in our lives.

Media assistance

Visit for a link - on the home page - to view a 20-minute guided imagery video called After the Storm – The Hero in You. You’ll also find free guided imagery videos, including as well as videos for relief from anxiety, stress, disturbed sleep, etc.



Mayo Clinic –

National Center for

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) -

The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing)

For more information on the effects of PTSD, see The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing,) and for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit and

Portions of this article are excerpts from’s Lifetips column written by Rose Sword.

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