AWAKENING | The stages of grief were developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross over 30 years ago, as she listened to and observed people living with terminal diagnoses. Since the publication of her book “On Death and Dying”, the “stages of grief,” as they are known, have become the gauge by which all grief is measured. What began as a way to understand the emotions of the dying became a way to strategist grief: The griever is expected to move through a series of clearly delineated stages, eventually arriving at “acceptance,” at which time their “grief work” is complete.
I bet you know what the stages are, even if you don’t think of yourself as much of a psychology-type person. The stages are taught in introductory college courses and were taught back when I was in hospice training. The stages are taught in grief and loss workshops. They come up in pop psychology and in clinical, scientific studies.
The stages of grief are everywhere. This means that many people, even professional psychologists, believe there is a right way and a wrong way to grieve, that there is an orderly and predictable pattern that everyone will go through, and if you don’t progress correctly, you are failing at grief. You must move through these stages completely, or you will never heal.
When Kubler-Ross wrote about these stages she explained that these are normal reactions we have to the tragic news. In fact, she called them defence mechanisms or coping mechanisms that we need to move through in order to manage change. We don’t move through the stages one at a time, in a neat, linear, step by step manner. That would be far too easy! What happens is that we occupy different stages at different times and can even move back to stages we have been in before.
Kubler-Ross said the stages can last for different periods of time and will replace each other or exist side by side at times. Ideally, it would be good to think that we will reach the phase of ‘Acceptance’ while managing change but some people get stuck in the stages and find it difficult or impossible to move on.