Of course, there is variation in how individuals deal with death, and certainly many do not have the necessary time to process their own death experience, but according to Dr. Kubler-Ross, given time, most individuals are likely to go through five stages as they move toward fully accepting the reality of their impending death.
The first stage of the dying process is understandably one of denial. None of us like to face the reality that our death may be imminent. When confronted with this reality, the dying person may express something akin to “No, not me” or “This can’t be happening to me.”
Denial is important and necessary. It helps cushion the impact of the patient’s awareness that death is inevitable. Without such a cushion, the person could easily be overwhelmed with such information.
The second stage of the dying process usually expresses itself through rage and anger. “Why me?” is the question repeatedly asked in one form or another. The dying person may resent the fact that others will remain healthy and alive while he must die.
God is often a special target for this anger, since he sometimes regarded as imposing, arbitrarily, the death sentence. Don’t worry if your loved one expresses such anger. God can take it.
The third stage of the dying process involves bargaining. The person begins to accept the fact of death but is likely to strike bargains for more time. It is common for the dying person to express in a multitude of ways, “I know I am going to die, but ...”
Mostly the dying person will bargain with God, even those who have never talked with God before. He may promise to be good or to do something in exchange for another week or month or year of life. Usually what is promised is irrelevant, because the dying person doesn’t keep his promises anyway.
The fourth stage of the dying process brings depression as the person finally accepts that death will come. First, the person mourns past losses, things not done, wrongs committed. But then he enters a state of “preparatory grief,” which involves getting ready for the arrival of death. The patient often grows quiet and doesn’t want visitors.
When a dying patient doesn’t want to see you anymore, this is a sign he has finished his unfinished business with you and now can let go peacefully.
The fifth and final stage of the dying process brings acceptance as the individual acknowledges both intellectually and emotionally that his time to die is very close now, and it’s all right.
This final stage is often characterized as neither happy nor unhappy. With genuine acceptance, the most predominant mood is that of peace — a peace that is a gift to both the individual and his loved ones.