Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and the Stages of Grief

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote the book “On Death and Dying.” She spoke about the universality of grief and how it is a process that we all experience when a loved one passes away. One of the instrumental contributions of the book are the stages of grief:

  1. Denial/Disbelief: Often the first reaction to loss. “This can’t be happening,” “I can’t believe they are gone;” are some typical thoughts we turn to when we are trying to wrap our heads around our overwhelming emotions.
  2. Bargaining: This is often a reaction to the lack of control that we feel when faced with our loss. They include the “what if” questions or the “if only” questions that we ask ourselves over and over.
  3. Anger: As a way to deal with our vulnerable feelings, we can feel anger. Anger at God, anger at the person for leaving us, anger at the medical system for failing our loved one. As we continue through the process of grief, we are often able to work through our anger, touching instead upon the raw feelings of grief.
  4. Depression/Sadness: Sadness is our bodies natural way to try and integrate the loss with the love we feel for our loved one. Carrying a heavy heart can often lead to feeling depressed as we try and wrestle through the sad and weighted feelings.
  5. Acceptance: This is a growing calm. As grief works itself through our system, infiltrating every cell, we begin to feel the integration of love and loss.

One important thing to note is that the stages of grief are not linear. Instead, we can often re-visit stages, moving more in figure 8 motion than in a straight line. We can feel disbelief, for example, when a year has passed; there are times that our anger spikes or we ruminate over the what-ifs again. And very often, we can feel acceptance throughout the whole process, sometimes in just the smallest of ways or in the big moments of a tear-soaked pillow.

In any event, it is okay to lean into the fact that although grief is universal and therefore a shared process, it is also a very individual process. Grief has its own timeline. 

Photo credit: http://Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

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2 thoughts on “Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and the Stages of Grief”

  1. For sure, I worked as a nurse for 38 years, I ran a palliative care program, nothing has prepared me for the antagonizing pain of the loss of my son! Each journey is personal, unconditional love and empathy is the support. Thank you for your dail wisdom!

    • My deepest condolences on the death of your son, Cathy. That is beyond a doubt, the rawest of grief. My thoughts are with you; thank you for sharing, xo


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