In their now seminal work, “On Grief and Grieving: Finding Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss,” authors Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler explore the process of grief and how we grieve. Originally published in 2005, the book has become a modern classic.
According to the authors, the five stages of grief are:
“Even if you go through any or all od the five stages ahead of the death, you will still go through them again after the loss,” the authors write. “The five stages. . . are part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in prescribed order.”
In other words, what the authors are saying is that not everyone grieves in the same way. Also, equally important is the idea, as noted above, that a person who is grieving may not experience all of the five stages – some people may only feel depression and denial, for instance – while not everyone will experience the same stages in the same order. In this way, the five stages of grief are somewhat malleable.
When writing about denial, for example, Kubler-Ross and Kessler write: “When we are in denial, we may respond at first by being paralyzed with shock and blanketed with numbness.” The authors continue: “The first stage of grieving helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb.”
Later, however, moving through the other stages of grief, we may feel anger. “Anger,” the authors write, “is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless.”
Still, experiencing loss is not easy. The five stages of grief, in a way, demonstrate the complexity of human emotions. And human emotions are not set to a specific timeline and time frame.
“People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months,” Kubler-Ross and Kessler write. “They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another, and back again to the first one.”
Finally, when we are experiencing loss, it remains important to allow ourselves to move through each stage, if necessary. Sometimes we won’t move through each stage, as the authors explain. But if we do, we may begin to understand that grieving is a complex process that is not easily understood.
Kubler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief & grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Scribner, New York, NY.