Many of us are familiar with the 5 stages of grief described in Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying.
The well-known stages were based on Kubler-Ross’s work with terminally ill patients in the process of dying. Over time, it’s also become our model for understanding grief and the healing process after the loss of a loved one.
The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Denial is the first stage.
There is shock and disbelief about the news of an illness or death. “This can’t be happening to me.” Denial helps us to slowly process the news of an illness.
Anger is the next stage.
Once reality sets in, a common reaction may be “That’s not fair!” or “Why me!?” Anger may be directed at God or the doctor who delivered the bad news. Or it may come out as blame toward others.
The third stage is Bargaining.
“What if…” and “If only…” statements are a hallmark of this stage. The terminally ill person may negotiate to avoid death. “If you cure this cancer, I’ll never smoke again.”
Next is Depression.
Depression is the heavy sadness and despair that develops with the understanding that death is a reality.
In this stage, the person may feel numb and withdraw from others. They may lose interest in daily activities they used to enjoy and experience changes in eating and sleeping habits.
Finally, Acceptance is the last stage.
This is not necessarily feeling okay with the thought of dying but acknowledging and accepting that death is a reality. There may be a sense of calm or a transition to finding joy in the time that is left.
Of course, not everyone experiences all the stages and some people may not go through any of them. And Kubler-Ross did not mean to say that we should go through each stage in a sequential manner.