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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 deaths.

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 experience.

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 community.


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