With 2020 now underway, the first thing that may not come to your mind is loss, but with each new year, gaining something – as well as losing something – is inevitable. The question then becomes: How do we handle loss?
Years ago, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler published what would become a classic book, “On Greif and Grieving: Finding the meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss.” Although a large part of their books is aimed at loss after death, Kubler-Ross and Kessler’s work can be applied, I believe, to other areas of life, such as in the aftermath of a romantic relationship.
The five stages of loss are:
Although these are named the five “stages” of grief, they are more like the five categories of grief. This is because a person may not move through these stages in a linear fashion. (In other words, they not experience these stage one after another.) Also, as pointed out by the authors, a person may not experience all of these stages; that is, a person may feel anger and acceptance, but he or she may not feel denial, bargaining, or depression.
“People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months,” the authors 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 stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another, and back again to the first one.”
What’s interesting, too, is that each one of these stages are “normal.” Feeling angry or depression after a loss is a natural part of the grieving process. Although it’s not stated explicitly, sadness underlies much of the grieving process.
“Tears are a symbol of life, a part of who we are and what we feel,” the authors write. “They live in us and through us.”
The most important lesson that I’ve learned from reading “On Greif and Grieving” is that loss is very personal. In other words, it’s a useless exercise to compare losses to one another. “When you compare losses, someone else’s may seem greater or lesser than your own, but all losses are personal,” the authors write. “Losses are very personal and comparisons never apply. No loss counts more than another. It is your loss that counts for you. It is your loss that affects you.”
To conclude, grief and grieving is a process – a process that moves through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance. A person may not experience each stage equally, and a person may not experience all stages either. Finally, when pain arrives, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.
Kubler-Ross, E., and Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Scribner, New York, NY.