Grief was Never on The Menu

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who moved to the United States in 1958. In seeing how care was delivered to dying patients, Kübler-Ross became more and more uncomfortable until eventually she began working on her own seminars, studies and teaching on loss & grief. In a BBC interview in 1983 she expressed her thoughts on how the dying were treated in hospital settings.

“Everything was huge and very depersonalized, very technical”

Kübler-Ross went on to revolutionize the way we think about death, dying, grief and loss. Her work informs more practice and conceptual understandings of grief than can be accurately measured. Her book On Death and Dying soared to success and is still widely referenced today. You can read about it here.

What some might call Kübler-Ross’ most notable work the “Five Stages of Grief Model” has become recognized all over the world by practitioners, academics and the general public, through pieces of popular culture.

You’ve heard them before, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. TV shows as popular as Grey’s Anatomy have taken on storylines that intertwine with the 5 stages of grief model.

There are so many misconceptions about the 5 stages of grief model. Not only was it built from the experiences of the dying and not the grieving family and friends but people also began to think that the stages were or had to be gone through consecutively.

After being in denial we would magically land in anger and bargaining thereafter. So on and so forth until finally having accepted the death of our loved one we could move on and be done with this grief business.

Firstly, the stages look different for everyone. My anger and your anger are different experiences, they have different energy and they show up in different ways. This goes for all emotions and stages of grief following the death of a loved one.

Secondly, grief isn’t linear. Meaning that just because I’ve spent time in denial and have experienced the depression and acceptance stages doesn’t mean I can’t sit in or feel those things again.

Grief isn’t a set dinner menu where we start in the appetizer phase and finish up in dessert. It’s also not a marathon where once we get through the first leg we tackle the second and eventually pass the finish line. Your grief, whatever road it goes down first or “last” is valid.

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on

Jennifer Moran Stritch, director of the Loss & Grief research group, among many other things teaches loss & grief, death and dying concepts to final year Social Care students in Limerick Institute of Technology.

As well as talking about Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief theory, Jennifer talks about other models of grief that maybe aren’t spoken about as much. Models like ambiguous loss, disenfranchised grief, continuing bonds and more. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter here.

I think it’s so important that we know just as much about other models of loss and grief as we do about the five stages of grief. So many times I hear from friends thinking they must be “crazy” because of how their grief shows up. In actual fact, more often than not it is a perfectly common while still unique to them – reaction to a loss.

So, while the 5 stages of grief are more important than we’ll ever probably know, I think it’s also important that we understand that it is not and was never meant to be a grief prison that we trap ourselves in and emerge from once we’re “done”.

Grief is a unique but universal part of living that all of us will experience. You’re not “doing it wrong” and you don’t need to follow a rule-book.

If you have been affected by any of the topics in this post or you want to learn more about what’s available on loss & grief in Ireland you can check out this page from the HSE.

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