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What is the longest stage of grief?

Grief is a natural reaction to loss or change. When someone close to us dies or a significant life transition occurs, it is normal to experience grief and a range of difficult emotions. Grief has no time limit and looks different for each person, but experts identify common stages that many grievers pass through on the journey: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

What are the 5 stages of grief?

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the five stages of grief in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. According to her model, people tend to experience the following stages when grieving a significant loss:

  1. Denial – Refusing to accept the reality of the loss.
  2. Anger – Feeling frustration, rage, or jealousy related to the loss.
  3. Bargaining – Attempting to negotiate or change the loss.
  4. Depression – Feeling intense sadness and sorrow.
  5. Acceptance – Coming to terms with the loss.

It is important to note that these stages are not linear or orderly. People may move between stages or experience several at once. There is no set length of time for each stage, and not everyone experiences every stage. The model provides a broad framework for understanding common grief responses.

How long does each stage of grief last?

There is no set duration for how long each stage of grief lasts. Some stages may feel more pronounced and last longer than others. General timeframes for the stages are:

  • Denial: A few days to weeks
  • Anger: A few weeks to months
  • Bargaining: A few weeks to months
  • Depression: A few months to a year or more
  • Acceptance: Begins after 1-2 years but may take much longer

The variability depends on the grieving person’s coping abilities, type of loss, available support, and cultural practices around grief. For example, the depression stage tends to last much longer with the loss of a child or spouse compared to other losses. Each person’s grief journey is unique.

What is the longest stage of grief?

According to most experts, the depression stage is often the longest stage of the grief process. There are a few reasons it tends to last the longest:

  • The depression phase involves deep sorrow that takes time to lift.
  • It may overlap with denial and bargaining prior to fully setting in.
  • Numbing depression may follow intense anger and attempts at bargaining.
  • Letting go and reaching acceptance requires working through depressive feelings.

Additionally, if grief goes unresolved for an extended time, the depression may become chronic or clinical. This prolongs the depression further. Experiencing depression for many months or years following a loss is not uncommon. Appropriate support and treatment can help shorten this difficult stage.

Key characteristics of the depression stage

Some of the key characteristics of the depression stage of grief include:

  • Persistent sadness, hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Fatigue, lack of energy
  • Sleep and appetite changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Social withdrawal
  • Crying spells, feelings of despair
  • Questioning one’s own existence and purpose

These emotions can be quite overwhelming. Professional help may be needed to manage this stage in a healthy way. Some level of depression is normal following significant loss, but clinical depression requires treatment.

What factors influence the duration of each grief stage?

There are several factors that can influence how long a griever spends in each stage of grief:

Factor Impact on Stage Duration
Type of loss Unexpected or traumatic losses often prolong denial and depression
Closeness of relationship Losing an immediate family member lengthens depression
Circumstances of the loss Violent, preventable, or stigmatized deaths extend anger
Pre-existing conditions Prior depression or anxiety disorders increase depressive phase
Support system Lack of social support prolongs depressive symptoms
Coping abilities Maladaptive coping extends denial and depression
Culture & faith Cultural mourning rituals can shorten denial and depression
Past losses Unresolved grief prolongs depression for new losses

As the table illustrates, both situational factors related to the loss and personal factors impact stage duration. There is significant individual variability in the grief process.

What helps shorten the depression stage?

While grievers cannot force themselves through the depression stage, certain strategies can help cope with this difficult time and gradually lessen depressive symptoms:

  • Allow yourself to fully grieve – Bottling up intense emotions prolongs depression.
  • Seek support – Connecting with others provides relief from isolation.
  • Engage in rituals – Funerals, memorials, and other symbolic acts help express feelings.
  • Take care of your health – Maintaining healthy routines boosts mood over time.
  • Join a grief support group – Sharing experiences normalizes your struggles.
  • Try counseling or therapy – Professional help facilitates the grief process.
  • Make meaning from the loss – Finding purpose eases existential depression.
  • Be patient with yourself – There is no perfect way to grieve or timeline.

With compassionate self-care, active coping skills, and help as needed, the intense despair of the depression stage slowly lifts. Bit by bit, moments of hope, meaning, and peace return until acceptance becomes possible.

When to seek professional help

It is advisable to seek help from a doctor, therapist, or grief counselor if you experience any of the following:

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Inability to function for over 2 months
  • Depression worsening rather than improving over time
  • Severe PTSD symptoms following a traumatic loss
  • Depression or anxiety that feels unbearable
  • Grief interfering with your physical health

Professional support helps alleviate intense or complicated grief and prevents further suffering or mental health concerns in the future.

Can you resolve grief without going through all the stages?

It is possible to resolve grief without passing linearly through every single stage in the popular five stage model. Reasons someone may not fully experience all five stages include:

  • The model is a general framework – not everyone will experience the exact stages.
  • People have individual grieving styles shaped by culture, personality, and past experience.
  • Some losses are less devastating than others and do not evoke each stage.
  • The type and timing of support changes the grief process.
  • Resolving a prior loss can mitigate stages when grieving a new loss.

The denial, anger, and bargaining tend to fade faster than the depression for most grievers. As long as you give yourself time to experience and express key emotions, you can reconcile your grief without prolonging or fixating on any particular stage.

Signs someone is resolving grief in a healthy way

Signs that grief is progressing down a healthy path include:

  • Taking time to feel and process the major emotions like sadness, anger, fear
  • Engaging in memorial activities and rituals for closure
  • Recalling positive memories and the importance of the loss
  • Seeking and accepting support from loved ones
  • Resuming participation in pleasurable activities
  • Finding ways to honor or remember the loved one
  • Feeling moments of peace, hope, gratitude
  • Integrating the loss into your life story

Even if the stages are not perfectly linear, finding meaning, regaining stability, and reaching acceptance of the loss are the hallmarks of resolution.

In what cultures is grief expressed differently?

There are cultural differences in how grief is expressed, experienced, and resolved around the world. Some examples include:

  • Buddhist cultures – Meditation, chanting, and offerings for the dead are common grieving rituals.
  • Hindu cultures – Cremation is followed by structured rituals spread over a 13-day mourning period.
  • Irish cultures – Wake rituals involving social gatherings, singing, and storytelling are integral to grieving.
  • Jewish cultures – Grief rituals focus on community support through shiva (7-day mourning period) and kaddish prayer.
  • Mediterranean cultures – Black clothing and passionate public displays of grief characterize mourning periods.
  • Native American cultures – Ceremonies, drumming, and connecting with nature often facilitate grieving.

These varied cultural expressions demonstrate that there is no single “right way” to grieve. The stages manifest differently based on cultural practices, customs, family dynamics, and individual factors.

Why culture influences the grief experience

Culture influences the grief experience in the following ways:

  • Shapes what type of emotional expression is acceptable
  • Provides rituals for coping with loss
  • Determines how the community comforts and supports the bereaved
  • Influences whether grief is expressed privately or communally
  • Offers shared meaning and explanations for loss
  • Forms expectations for grief based on traditions

Having a framework for grieving that aligns with one’s cultural or spiritual values can shorten certain stages and facilitate making meaning from the loss.

How can you support someone going through grief?

If your friend or family member is going through grief, there are many thoughtful ways to offer them support:

  • Listen without judgement when they need to talk about their feelings or the deceased.
  • Offer practical help like meals, rides, childcare, and help with bills.
  • Gently encourage them to take care of their health and attend to self-care.
  • Acknowledge dates, anniversaries, and events that may trigger their grief.
  • Reminisce together about positive memories of their loved one.
  • Validate that their feelings are normal while also being concerned about severe depression.
  • Suggest a grief support group if they seem isolated or stuck in their grief.
  • If religious, provide company to services or rituals that comfort them.
  • Continue providing support over time as grief comes in waves.

The most meaningful thing you can do is let them know you are there for the long haul. Be patient, compassionate and present. With time and support, intense grief gradually transforms into peace.

What not to say to a grieving person

Some phrases that may be hurtful or insensitive to avoid include:

  • “Let me know if your need anything.” – Offer tangible help instead.
  • “It was just their time to go.” – Cliche sayings invalidate their pain.
  • “They’re in a better place.” – Assumptions about the afterlife can offend.
  • “I know how you feel.” – Each loss is unique, never make it a competition.
  • “You’ll find someone else.” – No one can replace the specific person they lost.
  • “Look on the bright side.” – Positive reframing denies their sadness.
  • “You have to move on.” – They need time to grieve at their own pace.

The bereaved need unconditional support, not advice or platitudes. Simply listening and being present with them in their grief can make the most difference.


In summary, the depression stage of grief tends to be the longest lasting. Depression may span many months or even years depending on the nature of the loss, the griever’s coping abilities, and available social support. While grief is not linear, eventually even the most intense sorrow lifts in small increments until reaching acceptance becomes possible. Patience, self-compassion, community and cultural practices help shorten the depression. Seeking professional help for complicated grief can prevent long-term suffering and supports continuity in life after loss.