by Judy Carole

The stages of grief

Much has been written about grief and theories abound. A short foray into the internet will bring up:

  • Six stages of Dr Eric Lindemann
  • Five stages of Kübler Ross
  • Four stages of Worden and Sidney Zisook
  • Three stages of Dr Roberta Temes and Geoffrey Gorer.

However, these are theories: they are different people’s opinions.

So what do we know about the facts? The main fact is that grief is possibly the worst emotional pain we will suffer. Grief is also a journey. We never know when that journey is going to begin and it doesn’t have an end date, but the truth is that it is a journey that will make you into a very different person to the one you were before you started. The experience of deeply grieving will change you.

Nothing in our lives prepares us for the end of life, especially not a sudden end of life, so when it comes it is a blow. Even when it is expected after a long illness or very late in life, you still hear people say ‘We knew he was going to die, but it was such a shock when it happened’. Knowing that someone is going to die is logical, but the feeling of shock is emotional.

Understanding that grief has stages can have benefits for some people; about that there is no doubt or stage theories wouldn’t be so popular, but they also have their drawbacks.

The chief benefit of understanding that grief has stages is that it helps you to know that you are not going mad. Knowing that grief is a journey means that you won’t always be in the same place and that is the good news! Knowing that other people have been in that place and survived it and moved on with their lives is crucial and worth holding on to when you can’t see any light whatsoever in that dark tunnel.

The less positive side to knowing these stages is that sometimes you are expected to be ‘at a different stage by now’, hence there may be little tolerance for someone who, after months or even years, is still saying ‘I just can’t believe it’. There can be almost an attitude of ‘shouldn’t you have moved on by now?’ In cases where being acquainted with theories of the stages of grief leads to the bereaved person being expected to whizz through the stages or at least move rapidly through them, then the theories are unhelpful. They are, after all, attempts to describe an emotional process, not hard and fast rules.

The theories

Three of the chief theorists are Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Sidney Zisook and William Worden, each of whom describes the journey in a slightly different way:

  • Elizabeth Kubler Ross describes five stages: denial, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance
  • Sidney Zisook describes four stages: separation distress, traumatic distress, guilt remorse and regrets and social withdrawal
  • Worden’s Four Tasks are to accept the reality of the loss, to process the pain of grief, to adjust to a world without the deceased, and to find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.

There are numerous other theories, each of which has value, but grief is as individual as our lives and, no matter whose theory it is, there is no ‘one size fits all’. By all means use the theories to help you understand what the person may be experiencing, but don’t expect them to go through all the stages in your chosen theory and especially not within a set time fame. Each person’s journey is different.