Stages of Grief
Many Americans today have some concept of the stages of grief. The classic list comes from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross' book On Death and Dying (1969). The items she lists were never intended to be "have to do's." These are merely stages that she identified in people going through loss. Her five:
For most folks this list can be quite helpful. Most will identify with the concepts - at least they'll identify with the ones they've encountered to this point. My purpose in mentioning them here is to disagree.* My disagreement is with those who would demand that people adhere to "the list." Not everybody experiences all five stages. For the most part we want folks to reach "acceptance" but having achieved it doesn't mean that one is now free from denial, anger or the rest. These emotions seem to ebb and flow in all of us, not just the terminal patient or the one enmeshed in grief.
Actually grief isn't an enemy to be fought. Grief is part and parcel of who we are. Try to accept these as what it means to be human. The general description of the process is something like: "I think I'm going crazy." In a way, you are. But why should you be "sane" when your whole world is crashing down around you? I mean, wouldn't THAT be crazy?
I believe these stages offer what we need at the moment. DENIAL protects us by allowing in only a portion of the awful truth. We couldn't handle the whole package at once. I remember a young widow whose husband had died in an automobile accident while working miles away from their home. She kept wondering about his suitcase and other belongings. By focusing on this one aspect she protected herself from having to deal with the totality of her loss at a time when she lacked the resources for it.
The sad thing I've observed is how harsh the terminal patient can be to those who love them the most. I suppose this is an expression of ANGER. I wish I had something to offer the loved one. It may be that this is one way they aim to lessen your pain. If they can make you mad at them maybe it will be easier to give them up. I don't know. It is probably more of our human reaction against the unfairness of life. But you can understand that too, can't you? Most widowed persons will experience a bout of anger at the person who died and left them alone with this mess.
BARGAINING prolongs the fiction that we have some sort of power in the struggle. But it also allows us an opportunity to review who we are and maybe what is really important to us. Unfortunately our reasoning processes probably aren't functioning at their highest level during times like these.
The natural reaction to our own helplessness would be DEPRESSION. This is rightly a time for sadness. I've been guilty of violating such sadness. I'm grateful to those who were willing to listen to and affirm the fears of people feeling sad over their own mortality.
It's beautiful to encounter one who has reached a point of ACCEPTANCE. Their achievement offers a bit of hope to the rest of us.
* My comments are similar to those of Lawrence D. Reimer and James T. Wagner in The Hospital Handbook A Practical Guide to Hospital Visitation -- "Elisabeth Kübler-Ross revolutionized our understanding of death and dying with her delineation of stages she had observed in terminal patients. . . . However, her stages of death and dying , which she intended to be descriptive of common patterns, have now come to be prescriptive. Patients, pastors and families often expect the individual to experience these stages in proper order with the proper time frame. The work of Kübler-Ross is helpful. It is simply important not to take this as the only way to view the grief process of both patient and surviving family." pp. 84-85.
I discovered this comment while auditing Dr. Mike Patrick's class, Healthcare Ministry in the Fall of 2010.
©Gary Lowe, 2010.
For similar information, see Especially for Friends and Symptoms of Normal Grief.
Previously I pointed people to respond at the "Grief" post on my blog at PUNdaMENTAL. But I haven't posted to that blog since 2012. I haven't had the heart to go there lately.