Go Ahead-Grieve

I learned these stages in nursing school and every now & then I have to revisit them.  When things don’t go as expected & big crappy things happen, I’m heartened to know my life (and emotions) will follow a known, familiar pattern.  There’s something to be said for comfort & familiarity in the face of adversity.


l-o-n-g sad sigh.....


elisabeth kübler-ross – five stages of grief

Also known as the ‘grief cycle’, it is important to bear in mind that Kübler-Ross did not intend this to be a rigid series of sequential or uniformly timed steps. It’s not a process as such, it’s a model or a framework. There is a subtle difference: a process implies something quite fixed and consistent; a model is less specific – more of a shape or guide. By way of example, people do not always experience all of the five ‘grief cycle’ stages. Some stages might be revisited. Some stages might not be experienced at all. Transition between stages can be more of an ebb and flow, rather than a progression. The five stages are not linear; neither are they equal in their experience. People’s grief, and other reactions to emotional trauma, are as individual as a fingerprint.

In this sense you might wonder what the purpose of the model is if it can vary so much from person to person. An answer is that the model acknowledges there to be an individual pattern of reactive emotional responses which people feel when coming to terms with death, bereavement, and great loss or trauma, etc. The model recognises that people have to pass through their own individual journey of coming to terms with death and bereavement, etc., after which there is generally an acceptance of reality, which then enables the person to cope.

The model is perhaps a way of explaining how and why ‘time heals’, or how ‘life goes on’. And as with any aspect of our own or other people’s emotions, when we know more about what is happening, then dealing with it is usually made a little easier.

Again, while Kübler-Ross’s focus was on death and bereavement, the grief cycle model is a useful perspective for understanding our own and other people’s emotional reaction to personal trauma and change, irrespective of cause.

five stages of grief – elisabeth kübler ross

EKR stage Interpretation
1 – Denial Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It’s a defence mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely.
2 – Anger

Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. Knowing this helps keep detached and non-judgemental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset.
3 – Bargaining

Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends?..” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.
4 – Depression Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it’s the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the ‘aftermath’ although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It’s a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.
5 – Acceptance Again this stage definitely varies according to the person’s situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.

(Based on the Grief Cycle model first published in On Death & Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969. Interpretation by Alan Chapman 2006-2009.)



9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 15:10:39

    Grief is for any loss–break up, job loss, loss of hope, loss of ..whatever…and it is so tough for me to do…but necessary to heal. I even grieve things that happened in the past that are affecting my present..and have started to grieve about my dad and the loss [yet again] of relationship there. Writing helps. http://www.bignoise-enterprises.com/blog/2010/11/29/force-fed-part-iv-the-balls-in-your-court/

    My heart goes out to you for what you must be feeling in respect to your daughter.


    • autoimmunemaven
      Nov 30, 2010 @ 09:46:00

      Hi Kathy, thanks for sharing your situation…..I’m managing; each day fluctuates so much. It’s almost crazy! Much appreciation.


      • Kathy
        Nov 30, 2010 @ 16:19:53

        Sheila, while I can’t ever know what it is like to be in your shoes right now, I suspect it’s probably natural for one’s emotions to be all over the place…cycling in and out of the various stages of grief, etc.

      • autoimmunemaven
        Dec 02, 2010 @ 08:32:22

        Hi Kathy, I’m staying in the ‘anger’ phase a really long time…. I’m just rolling with it..

  2. phylor
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 20:52:09

    Oh Sheila, I just read your response to HibernationNow: sorry that your daughter has broken your heart, yet again! The Kübler-Ross scale makes total sense: you are greiving for the daughter you lost: she should have been your companion, and your best friend, not “the hardened ugly woman” she has become.
    You are an incredibly strong, powerful person. You will make it through this, one step, one stage at a time. “I’m letting it out slowly. Small bites….
    is a good plan: make a paper airplane of your anger and let it sail away.


  3. phylor
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 20:42:27

    Can I borrow your “broken-heart?”
    Thanks for reminding me that grief and greiving isn’t always about death. When I unexpectedly lost a job that I upheaved my life, for I think I went through all the stages of greiving (many during the 1/2 hour I was given to get out all my stuff out of the office — I left most of it and made them send it to me). I’ve been meaning to write down the names of the folks who got me fired, and then make a paper airplane, and toss it into the air at some appropriate spot so I can let go. It’s been 6 tumultuous years with lots of other things to grieve (including my mother’s hospitalization then 8 most of them excruiatingly, painful weeks until one morning, she left the world lightly: no pain then, no pain now) and I still can replay, Blu-Ray, Hi Def the entire “You’re Fired” conversation! Guess why I don’t watch the Apprentice! lol
    Hope nothing crappy happened which caused you to revisit Kübler-Ross’s stages of greiving!


  4. hibernationnow
    Nov 28, 2010 @ 20:29:03

    Thank you, interesting post. It’s also necessary to know that every individual grieves differently. I remember when my father died my sister told me I was grieving too much. Too much? Of course I grieved, I cried and cried and I wrote about my feelings. She is less emotional and sensitive and grieved less or maybe she hid her grief. There is no wrong way or right way to grieve. It has to feel right for you. Be true to yourself. And while time does not heal all wounds, it makes it a little easier. For me, birthdays and holidays, Father’s day are still very painful and it’s been 8 years.


    • autoimmunemaven
      Nov 28, 2010 @ 20:42:52

      I totally agree–there’s no WRONG way. My dad has been gone 11 years & it still makes me cry. This post was precipitated by my daughter’s inSANE stupidity & I’m heartbroken & angry…… She’s been arrested for manufacturing methamphetamine and a ton of other ignorant stuff. I’m glad she’s locked up and safe, but I’m so mad at her. The daughter I knew has died & the hardened, ugly woman she’s turned into has a long, hard road. I haven’t shared this with many folks, but I’m letting it out slowly. Small bites….


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