Many people these days have heard of the five stages of grief and this blog looks at where they came from and how useful they can be as a roadmap for grief recovery.
The five stages of grief were based on studies done by Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but they have since been generalised them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one, a relationship break-up or other types of major life losses. Her ideas have also since been applied in the world of business for people adjusting to change and loss.
Who was Elizabeth Kubler-Ross?
From her teenage years when she went against her father’s wishes and studied medicine, she was always fearless and outspoken! Later on, her work in challenging the medical profession to change its view of dying patients brought about great change and advanced many important concepts such as living wills, home health care, and helping patients to die with dignity and respect.
She grew up during the second world war and attended the University of Zurich Medical School after she spent time participating in aiding refugees from Nazi Germany. Her experiences travelling through war-torn countries once the war had ended helped narrow her focus to psychiatry. She went to New York to continue her education and married Emanuel Ross, a fellow medical student. During her fellowship at Manhattan State Hospital she first came into contact with dying patients. The lack of concern, compassion, and humane treatment provided to critically ill patients appalled Kubler-Ross and led her to develop a workshop that focused on addressing the needs of these individuals. She taught medical students how to work with terminally ill individuals in a respectful way, while identifying and acknowledging the issues they were facing as they approached the end of life.
Throughout her career she was alternately criticised and praised for her research and theories regarding the inadequacies of the psychiatric and medical professions when it came to dying patients. She published her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying, based on her years of research and work, in 1969. The book introduced the well-known five stages of grief that are widely used today to help people cope with death. Her support of the dying led her to rally behind the national hospice care organisation.
The five stages of grief
1. Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
2. Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
3. Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
4. Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
5. Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”
A map not a rigid framework
It is important to stress that not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages – some people resolve their grief without going through ANY of these stages. Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns. In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!
See also: What is Grief?