Stages of Grief? Yeah? NAH!
Do you ever get so annoyed, frustrated or angry that you just want to scream?
I do, every time I see or hear, yet again, another reference to the “five stages of grief” as a formula for grieving in this day and age. Good grief, there is nothing prescriptive about grieving by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, it is the complete opposite – disorderly, unpredictable and chaotic, with a plethora of emotions.
I always remember Mal McKissock, an Australian Bereavement Specialist, saying in a key note address at a Conference during the 90’s, that the only predictable thing about grief is its unpredictability.
While grieving and trying to make sense of your experience, comparing yourself to a model that is half a century old and never intended for grieving in the first place is downright unhelpful and potentially damaging.
The idea of ‘stages of grief’ has been attributed to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Her book ‘On Death & Dying’ published in 1969, was to highlight the unsatisfactory treatment terminally ill patients received at that time and to use patient experience to educate the health professionals, clergy and family caring for them.
Originally, the ‘stages’ of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance came from observations on patient response to receiving catastrophic news, namely, a cancer diagnosis. In the 1960’s, such a diagnosis inevitably meant a death sentence. On publication of her book however the model shifted from being about receiving catastrophic news to ‘stages of dying’. During the 1970’s, the ‘stages of dying’ morphed into a model for ‘stages of grief’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
As Kubler-Ross stated:
“The stages have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. 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 grief is as individual as our lives.”
On Grief and Grieving, Pub 2014
Unfortunately, people still choose to perpetuate this outdated and unhelpful way of thinking about grief when there are many other more helpful and current ways of thinking about grief today. In my work, I find it helpful to provide people with a variety of frameworks for thinking about grief using concepts and imagery for as we know, no one size fits all.
If you would like to know more, contact Claire.
For more information on this subject see the article in Time New Ways to Think About Grief adapted from The Truth About Grief, by Ruth Davis Konigsberg.
Or watch the following Tedx Talk by Susan Delaney
© Claire Laurenson 2017
This blog is the author’s viewpoint and is not intended to replace professional medical advice.