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The Missing Step in the Grief Process

This very frightened deer was so hungry she braved our presence to retrieve a (very tasty) banana peel we composted at the edge of our campsite. She was so skinny her ribs were showing! The next evening I peeled a whole banana, sectioned it into bite-sized pieces, and left it and the peel in the same spot. Sure enough, our deer visitor returned…..her bravery paid off!

In my last post here, I shared about the devastating grief I have been working through over the last month to date.

If you are just reading this blog as a first-timer, you may not know a thing about me, and you really don’t need to know anything other than that I can recite the five stages of grief by heart.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression/Sadness. Acceptance.


This sounds a lot worse than it is, but honestly I am a grief process veteran. Or junkie. Or whatever you would call someone who likes to work through her grief by naming each stage (out loud if necessary) so I don’t just think I’m having another cosmic meltdown right out in public.

If I can pinpoint the feeling I’m having, like “oh that’s ANGER,” it helps me remember that I’m grieving (sometimes, believe it or not, I forget and just think I woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something) and gives me a structure and a timeline of sorts so I don’t think it will just last forever.

Although it might. Grieving offers no guarantees. But I prefer to name the stages and tell myself if I just stay patient and open, it will process itself out and I will emerge healed and whole and ready for new adventures.

So here I am sitting in the midst of wild grief, sobbing on the phone to my dear friend, telling her I am just so SCARED.

And that is when it hits me. Where is “SCARED” in the 5-stage process of grief?

It is nowhere! Fear is such a strong part of every deep grief experience I’ve ever had, from recovering from anorexia and bulimia to recovering from depression and panic to losing human loved ones to ending relationships to mourning pets who pass….and yet it is NOWHERE in the official grief process.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Sadness/Depression. Acceptance.

See? No fear. Literally. 

Now, I suspect that fear really is in there, and that it is hiding underneath Anger. The reason I say this is because so many times in life when I have worked with a coach or mentor or talked with a heart friend about something that is making me angry, I have discovered that deep down, it is fear fueling the anger.

The analogy I resonate with is a wild animal in a cage. It is hissing and snapping at me. It wants to bite me so bad. But it isn’t mad at me (or at least I don’t think it is – especially if I’m not even the one that put the animal in that cage). It is afraid. So it snaps. It hisses. It bites. It lashes out. It might even roll over and play dead, refusing to respond, giving me the silent/dead treatment.

But still, it is not mad. It is afraid. It is fighting for its life, using a display of anger as its potentially most powerful weapon to keep me away and stay alive.

It has no idea I am a friend and I am trying to help.

So I think perhaps the fear part is underneath the anger part in the five stages of grief. But when I am grieving, my fear is a far stronger response overall than my anger – and I can share this honestly after reviewing my major grief experiences to date (47 years worth thus far, which is something – a decent-sized sample, I think).

Fear is such a huge part of the grief process for me that it can actually even inhibit me from feeling any grief at all! For example, let’s say I need to end a relationship. I know it – the other person knows it – in this case, it is not death that will end the connection but a parting-of-ways type of ending where both people stay alive.

And the ending part is optional – it would be best, it would be beneficial in the long run, but in the short run it is going to be very unpleasant. It will be fear-making. The fear is so powerful – fear of being alone, being on my own, being my sole source of support, being unsure who I can turn to for help/guidance/support/love/all those things – that I put off the ending again and again.

I know once the ending (ahem) begins, the grief process will also begin. And I’ve had a preview of what that will be like thanks to the waves of fear that wash over me unrelentingly if I even CONTEMPLATE beginning the ending of the relationship.

So, FEAR. BIG fear. Fear is the one part of the grief process I actually think I might not survive, plus it is so, well, fearful, that I don’t think I want to survive it, or even try.

So for me, the grief process looks like this.

FEAR. Denial. FEAR. Anger. FEAR FEAR FEAR. Bargaining. (Slightly less FEAR – hoping the bargaining will work). Sadness/Depression. (Still less fear – distracted by the depression and the crying). FEAAAARRRRRRR. FEAR. FEAR. FEAR. Back through the four stages again. 

Acceptance. Or something that passes for it.

That is just my personal 5+ stages of grief process. But I just thought it might be worth mentioning here in case I’m not the only one who has been wondering why grief seems to contain so much fear yet it isn’t mentioned anywhere in the “official” process itself.

Today’s Takeaway: What is your personal grief process like? Do you notice you tend to move through grief in specific ways? Would you add anything to the official “five stages of grief” to personalize your grief process?

The Missing Step in the Grief Process

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2018). The Missing Step in the Grief Process. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Jul 2018
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