Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's groundbreaking work with terminally ill patients asked important questions about the lived-experience of those who are coping with dying. From this work was born the 5-stage model of coping with dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This research, published in Kubler-Ross's 1969 book On Death and Dying, was intended as a description of patients' experiences of coping with dying. Eventually, however, this theory was taken up by professionals and the public as a prescription for how people cope with the death of another, that is, as a model of the grieving process. Even today, some health professionals, mental health professionals, chaplains, and other well-meaning folk, often explain to those who are grieving that these are the 5 stages they should expect to go through and the order in which they should go through them. Some even become frustrated with someone who is grieving for “doing it wrong.”
The truth is that as human beings we grieve as uniquely as we love. Any one of us may experience one of the “stages” that Kubler-Ross described, but perhaps not all, and certainly not in a neatly prescribed order. You may be aware of your own grieving experiences in which other thoughts or feelings (such as feeling numb or cut off from the world around you) are more prominent, at least for a time. There is no one way to grieve a loss, just as there is no one way to build relationships and memories.
A recent article by Tessie Mastorakos featured on Psychology Today speaks to the unique experiences of parents who are coping with the loss of a child, and helps to challenge the old stage model with emerging research. Click here to read the full text of Mastorakos's article.
About the Author
Clinical psychologist Dr. Kristy Novinski contributes insights, book and film reviews, discussions of pop culture, and exploration of news and research in the field of psychology.