Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: The Five Stages of Grief

"Pieta" by El Greco, 1571-1576. Phil...

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In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describes the five stages of grief which a person facing death encounters as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In the ensuing decades, researchers studying the effects of grief expanded the stages into an extended grief cycle with the addition of  two additional stages, shock, which precedes denial, and which I have written about extensively from my own grief experience in this blog, and testing, which happens before acceptance.

However, no one who has studied or written about the stages of grief has claimed that these stages are inflexible; rather they represent a theoretical framework for the grief experience. As human beings are complex individuals who experience and process life events differently, many variables occur in the grief process overall. While some individuals may grieve in the five or seven stages in the exact order in which they are described by Ross or other models of grief, others may experience the stages in different orders or skip some stages entirely.

“Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns. In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief, ‘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 grieving is as individual as our lives.'”(http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm)

In my grieving experience, when I discovered that my partner, a man with whom I have a twenty two  year old daughter, and whom I had identified as being the love of my life since adolescence, had been cheating on me for eighteen months with another woman, I immediately went into a period of shock with lasted roughly seventy two hours.

For the next two months, I entered an emotional state of mind which was part denial and part bargaining. By doing so, I apparently skipped over the anger stage, although I did experience flashes of anger, especially in my dreams (see ‘The Murderess Emmeline.’)

For the first week, I simply could not believe that my partner had cheated on me. Upon my discovery, I had emailed him right away, and for several days, I maintained a fanatical belief that he would appear at my door with a bouquet of roses and be able to explain the situation away, or offer some huge gesture to make amends. For instance, I thought that since this whole situation symbolized how out of control his life was, that he would enter a drug and alcohol treatment center and become the honest, wholesome person I’d always wanted him to be.

It is telling that I emailed him and did not call him. I had confronted him over the phone on the day before I discovered his betrayal about another issue which he had kept hidden from me; on a certain level, once I uncovered his cheating, I knew that the game was up.

Also, I kept insisting to myself that this could not be happening in my life. Not my life! I kept exclaiming. This had to be for someone else’s life- someone who hadn’t yet had their share of tragedy, as I’d sure had a gullet full of tragedy myself. No, this was someone else’s partner cheating on them. There must be some mistake. This was my happy ever after ending. I had worked for this, I had suffered for this and no one was going to take this away from me. We had loved each other for eighteen years, we had longed for each other for eighteen years, and hadn’t he, with his touch, with his look, with his attention, with his passion, with his voice, with his eyes, with his hands, with his mind hadn’t he convinced me of his lifelong fidelity? Hadn’t he seared himself into my heart and soul?

At this point, the first month or so, I didn’t blame him. If anything, I blamed God. There had to be some way to go back in time and fix this, I kept thinking. I kept imagining the Staples EASY button. I felt surreal as well. The whole world around me felt surreal. None of it felt real. I felt like some evil spell had been cast upon us.

I will discuss my continuing denial and  subsequent bargaining in my next post.



8 thoughts on “Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: The Five Stages of Grief

    • Thank you! It was such a huge trauma that processing it completely, through writing this blog, with family and friends, and with a wonderful therapist is the only way I’ve been able to get through the winter.

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