Grief isn’t in stages. It’s a spiral

grief tree stump

Grief is weight pressing down on me, holding me in my bed.

Grief is waking up a stranger in an unfamiliar place.

Grief is being homesick for a home that no longer exists.

Grief is the stump of a tree that is left behind when the rest of the tree is gone.

Plenty is written about the process of grief. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a dream, the loss of a stage in your life, or any other kind of loss, the process supposedly follows some classic patterns.

The stages of grief is the most well-known process. You may know these as the big five: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Many people think of these as a linear timeline of the grieving process. You finish denial, then move onto anger, and so on. The reality isn’t so simple.

C.S. Lewis described grieving as being like a spiral:

For in grief nothing “stays put.” One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

This spiral involves returning to the same stages over and over. But equally, the spirals go further out. The memory never fully disappears – it’s always part of your epicentre. But life has grown around it in increasing layers, like the rings inside the stump of a tree.

Moving forward

When you say that you’ll get over it, it’s not untrue. But equally, that monumental event doesn’t just recede into the distance. The pain may fade, but your life grows and curves around it.

It’s not a question of beating yourself up about “why am I not over this yet?” It’s part of the spiral, as unpleasant as that is.

Each person will have an individual experience. Years later, the grieving may circle around again even though it’s lain dormant for years before that.

Grief isn’t an end and a new start. It may start a new chapter, but it’s still part of the book. You just need to know there’s still pages to be written.