What to Know About the Acceptance Stage of Grief

Older lady looking at photos on the couch

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

After a loss, you may experience many different emotions, including shock, denial, grief, anger, guilt, and regret. Eventually however, you may reach a stage of acceptance. 

“Acceptance doesn’t mean that you feel happy about the loss. Rather, in this stage, there is finally an acceptance of the pain and loss you experienced, and you start to look forward to and plan for the future,” says Sarah Gundle, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in New York City.

The loss may be the loss of a loved one, or something else that had meaning for you, such as an idea, a business, a relationship, a physical ability, or even a sense of independence or control.

This article explores acceptance as the final stage of grief, as well as some coping strategies that may be helpful to you at this time.

What Are the Stages of Grief?

A Swiss-American psychiatrist named Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed a theory in 1969, that we grieve in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The theory gained popularity in academic circles and popular culture alike.

According to Dr. Gundle, the theory has been adapted since and now includes seven stages, which are:

  • Shock and denial: A state of disbelief and numbness.
  • Pain and guilt: The loss still feels unbearable and your feelings and needs seem overwhelming.
  • Anger and bargaining: A stage where you lash out or tell a higher power that you’ll do something if they’ll only grant you relief and an end to these feelings.
  • Depression: A period of isolation and loneliness where you process the loss and reflect on it.
  • The upward turn: The anger and pain have started to subside, and a more calm and relaxed state begins to emerge.
  • Reconstruction and working through: You begin to put the pieces of your life back together.
  • Acceptance and hope: There’s a gradual acceptance of life’s new configuration—and a feeling of possibility in the future.

While these theories help us understand some of the common ways people grieve, it’s important to remember that every individual reacts to grief differently.

Dr. Gundle notes that grief doesn’t necessarily go forward in neat, precise stages. “You may go back and forth between the stages of grief, particularly around anniversaries, holidays, or other special occasions.”

What Is the Acceptance Stage of Grief?

In the acceptance stage of grief, you are able to accept the reality of the loss. 

Sarah Gundle, PsyD

This stage is about accepting the fact that there is a new reality that cannot be changed, and figuring out how the new reality will impact your life, relationships, and trajectory.

— Sarah Gundle, PsyD

Dr. Gundle notes that acceptance does not mean slipping back into denial by pretending that the loss has not occurred.

Rather, acceptance means embracing the present, understanding the extent of the loss rather than fighting it, accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions, and then starting your journey toward a new phase of life with contentment, says Dr. Gundle.

Characteristics of the Acceptance Stage of Grief

These are some of the characteristics of the acceptance stage of grief, according to Dr. Gundle:

  • Feeling positive and hopeful
  • Seeking out new meaning
  • Feeling more secure and relaxed
  • Engaging with reality as it is rather than what you thought it would be
  • Being more mindful and present 
  • Coping and adapting to the circumstances
  • Being able to tolerate emotions and be vulnerable 
  • Communicating in an honest, assertive, and open manner
  • Taking care of yourself and having self-compassion

These are some examples of what the acceptance stage of grief can look like, says Dr. Gundle:

  • If you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, rather than fighting against the diagnosis, you start doing the things you want to do in the time you have left.
  • In the case of a divorce, rather than focusing on the negativity between you and your ex-partner, you recognize all the learnings and positive experiences you’ve taken away from the relationship and start to look forward to your future.
  • While processing the death of a loved one, rather than focusing on your pain and all that you have lost, you remember all the good times you had together and all the happy memories you have to cherish.

Coping With the Acceptance Stage of Grief

These are some strategies that can help you achieve acceptance:

  • Remember that it takes time: Grieving is a painful process and healing can take time. Even if you start to accept the loss, there may be times when you feel angry, sad, or upset, and that’s all right. Acceptance becomes more stable with time, says Dr. Gundle.
  • Perform a ritual: A gesture or a ritual that has meaning to you can help you process your loss, making it easier for you to let go. You can even choose to perform the ritual periodically on holidays or special occasions, to honor the memory of your loss and help you cope.
  • Surround yourself with loved ones: While you’re grieving, keep friends and family members close, rather than withdrawing from them and isolating yourself. Let them know how they can be there for you and accept their support.
  • Focus on the positives: It’s important to focus on positive aspects like happy memories, learnings and insights, what you have rather than what you’ve lost, and the courage and resilience you have shown.
  • Start to look toward the future: When you feel ready, start thinking about and planning for the future. You may experience twinges of guilt or sadness if it’s not how you pictured it would be, but you’ll slowly come to accept that this is the way things were meant to be.

A Word From Verywell

A major loss can take a mental and physical toll on you and turn your world upside down. However, the final stage of the grieving process is acceptance, which is when you accept your new reality and start to make your way forward through it.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Grief.

  2. Corr CA. Should we incorporate the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in our current teaching and practice and, if so, how? Omega (Westport). 2021;83(4):706-728. doi:10.1177/0030222819865397

  3. O’Connor MF. Grief: A brief history of research on how the body, mind, and brain adapt. Psychosom Med. 2019;81(8):731-738. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000717

  4. Stroebe M, Schut H, Boerner K. Cautioning healthcare professionals. Omega (Westport). 2017;74(4):455-473. doi:10.1177/0030222817691870

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.