5 Stages of Grief
Since the original publication of the landmark book On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, there has been a great deal of research done in the study of grief and bereavement. Ms. Ross proposed a model which included 5 stages of grief: denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance; however, today's psychologists and social scientists have determined that this model–although deeply embedded in our culture–has been misapplied to those in mourning. The model Ms. Kubler-Ross proposed focused not on those grieving the death of a loved one, but focused on those adjusting to their own impending death. And we need to release our attachment to the expectation of a regular progression through these defined stages for those in bereavement.
Bereavement is a Period of Resiliency, Oscillation and Adaptation
In fact, there is little or no research-based evidence for this progression. Psychologist George Bonanno interviewed hundreds of people, following the natural course of their grief, even from a point before they were bereaved long afterwards. In his book The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss, Dr. Bonanno argues the common perception that the loss of a loved one plunges us into despair and depression from which we gradually recover is not the norm. In truth, he found that two-thirds of those he interviewed were resilient in coping with the death of a loved one. In fact, those in mourning fluctuate between sadness and normalcy. This emotional oscillation, Bonanno writes is “nothing short of spectacular”; and the predominance of joy is–in his word–"striking".
In a related online AARP article from 2011, "5 Surprising Truths About Grief", author Ruth Davis Konigsberg writes that psychologist Toni Bisconti learned that the fluctuations described by Bonanno occur rapidly, changing from one day to the next. However, "over time, those swings diminish in both frequency and intensity, until we reach a level of emotional adjustment."
So, unless you are facing the anticipatory grief resulting from a terminal diagnosis of your own, let go of the less-than-relevant model of 5 stages of grief proposed by Kubler-Ross. Instead, Ms. Konigsberg, author of The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and The New Science of Loss, asks that you remember four very important things about your grief and bereavement experience:
It is a severe, yet self-limiting state of being, but by no means a permanent condition. In other words, the emotional highs and lows will–over time–even out.
Chances are, despite the best thinking of friends and family, you won'trequire the help of a grief counselor. In fact, she writes, "according to a 2008 survey, most grief seems to go away on its own."(Be aware that grief counseling can be helpful for those whose grief "has lasted a long time and who are likely suffering from a condition called complicated grief.")
Use humor and laughter to aid in your bereavement. Ms. Konigsberg shares the findings of psychologist Dale Lund who, in 2008, surveyed 292 recently bereaved men and women, and found that 75%reported finding higher levels of humor and laughter in their daily lives than they had expected. Take the time to watch comedic films, and enjoy stand-up comedians or television sitcoms. Spend time with friends whose sense of humor can delight and tickle your "funny bone".
Focus on remembering the "good times" shared with your loved one. "Being able to draw on happy memories helps you heal—those who are able to smile when describing their relationship to their husband or wife six months after the loss were happier and healthier 14 months out than those who could only speak of the deceased with sadness, fear and anger.As hard as it might be, try to focus on good memories and feelings about your relationship, as it is the positive emotions that can protect your psyche and help you find serenity."
As psychologist Vaughn Bell, of King's College in London, England, noted in the 2012 online article "We All Grieve in Our Own Way", there are no rules or stages to grieving. "Contrary to our long-held assumptions, there are no rules to grief, no stages except our personal journeys, and no task except those we set ourselves," he writes. "Normality is not what we return to; it is what we go through."