On Grief and Grieving : Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
Shortly before her death in 2004, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, her collaborator, completed the manuscript for this, her final book. On Grief and Grieving is a fitting completion to her work. Thirty-six years and sixteen books ago, Kübler-Ross's groundbreaking On Death and Dying changed the way we talk about the end of life. Now On Grief and Grieving will profoundly influence the way we experience the process of grief.
On Death and Dying began as a theoretical book, an interdisciplinary study of our fear of death and our inevitable acceptance of it. It introduced the world to the now-famous five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. On Grief and Grieving applies these stages to the process of grieving and weaves together theory, inspiration, and practical advice, all based on Kübler-Ross's and Kessler's professional and personal experiences, and is filled with brief, topic-driven stories. It includes sections on sadness, hauntings, dreams, coping, children, healing, isolation, and even the subject of sex during grief.
"I know death is close," Kübler-Ross says at the end of the book, "but not quite yet. I lie here like so many people over the years, in a bed surrounded by flowers and looking out a big window....I now know that the purpose of my life is more than these stages....It is not just about the life lost but also the life lived."
In one of their final writing sessions, Kübler-Ross told Kessler, "The last nine years have taught me patience, and the weaker and more bed-bound I become, the more I'm learning about receiving love."
On Grief and Grieving is Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's final legacy, one that brings her life's work profoundly full circle.
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July 18, 2005
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Excerpt from On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Chapter One: The Five Stages of Grief
Denial, Anger, Barganing, Depression, and Acceptance
The stages have evolved since their introduction, and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.
The five stages -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance -- are a 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 a prescribed order.
Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of grief's terrain, making us better equipped to cope with life and loss.
Denial in grief has been misinterpreted over the years. When the stage of denial was first introduced in On Death and Dying, it focused on the person who was dying. In this book, On Grief and Grieving, the person who may be in denial is grieving the loss of a loved one. In a person who is dying, denial may look like disbelief. They may be going about life and actually denying that a terminal illness exists. For a person who has lost a loved one, however, the denial is more symbolic than literal.
This does not mean that you literally don't know your loved one has died. It means you come home and you can't believe that your wife isn't going to walk in the door at any minute or that your husband isn't just away on a business trip. You simply can't fathom that he will never walk through that door again.
When we are in denial, we may respond at first by being paralyzed with shock or blanketed with numbness. The denial is still not denial of the actual death, even though someone may be saying, "I can't believe he's dead." The person is actually saying that, at first, because it is too much for his or her psyche.