The Myth of Stages of Grief
By Susan L. Fuller
Theories about the stages of grief abound, but the idea
that there are definitive stages of grief has led to an
epidemic of people thinking they aren't grieving
properly. As if grief isn't hard enough, we now sit in
judgment of our grief.
The people who have theorized about the stages of grief
never meant for them to be used this way, but this is
how they are now being used by the bereaved and
professionals alike. They are so ubiquitous they have
become little more than a cultural cliché being applied
to playoff and political losses as well as actual
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's research on the 5 stages of
grief began with a study of recently diagnosed cancer
patients. So though it can be argued that grief is
grief, there are real differences between a population
of patients anticipating their own death and people who
are grieving the death of someone they love.
Furthermore, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and
acceptance do not describe a linear path through grief.
Dr. Kubler-Ross knew this but that hasn't stopped many
of us from latching on to these five stages as THE PATH.
The disconcerting truth is there is no path. Each of us
grieves differently. The same death can elicit a variety
of responses among family members and different deaths
will be experienced differently by the same person. No
two losses are ever the same.
Yes, we might experience one or all of the 5 stages of
grief at some point, but I can think of an endless
number of other responses we're just as likely to
Many like exhaustion, inability to concentrate,
sleeplessness and others, mimic depression but can only
be attributed to depression in the most superficial way.
Other feelings like relief, which many people experience
following a long illness but rarely mention, don't fit
so neatly into the stages of grief at all.
I'm not saying you 're not going to experience these
things. There's a good chance you will, but not
necessarily. What I can say with certainty, is that even
if you do experience all of these "stages", you will not
experience them in any kind of linear fashion, and you
will probably experience each of them many times, not
just once before you're done.
Just within the framework of the 5 stages of grief, it
would not be uncommon to go from denial to depression,
back to denial, to anger, to depression, to acceptance,
and back to depression and anger, and then back to
acceptance. Nor would it be unusual for anger or
depression to pop up years later for a return visit.
So although, the stages of grief describe certain states
that may or may not be experienced when you're grieving
a death, there is no way these stages provide a logical
path for anyone to follow. Trying to turn them into a
linear path creates many more problems than it solves,
and does a real disservice to people who are grieving
the loss of someone they love.
I wrote 'How to Survive Your Grief When Someone You Love
Has Died' to provide the support people who are grieving
really need. It is not about the stages of grief. It is
about the real nuts and bolts of grieving.
The good news is it is possible to survive, and even
thrive following the death of someone you love. In 'How
to Survive Your Grief', I explain exactly what you may
be experiencing, why you're experiencing it, and what to
do about it, so you can reach a peaceful resolution and
move forward in your life with remembrance rather than
prolonged and incomplete grief.
For the most part, grief does not require professional
intervention, but I include sections throughout the book
explaining when you really do need to get help, what
kind of help to get, and how to find it in your