Quad Cities, IL/IA

Working with the community... for a healthier community.

“Are There Actually Stages Of Grieving?”


Many years ago Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book entitled On Death and
Dying. The book identified five stages that a dying person goes through
when they are told that they have a terminal illness. Those stages are:
denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For many years,
in the absence of any other helpful material, well-meaning people
incorrectly assigned those same stages to the grief that follows a death
or loss. They simply called them the 5 stages of grief. Although a
griever might experience some or all of those feeling stages, it is not a
correct or helpful basis for dealing with the conflicting feelings
caused by loss.

Are there really 5 stages of grief?
It is our experience that given ideas on how to respond, grievers will
cater their feelings to the ideas presented to them. After all, a
griever is often in a very suggestible condition; dazed, numb, walking
in quicksand. It is often suggested to grievers that they are in denial.
In all of our years of experience, working with tens of thousands of
grievers, we have rarely met anyone in denial that a loss has occurred.
They say “Since my mom died, I have had a hard time.” There is no denial
in that comment. There is a very clear acknowledgment that there has
been a death. If we start with an incorrect premise, we are probably
going to wind up very far away from the truth.

What about anger? Often when a death has occurred there is no anger at
all. For example, my aged grandmother, with whom I had a wonderful
relationship got ill and died. Blessedly, it happened pretty quickly, so
she did not suffer very much. I am pleased about that. Fortunately, I
had just spent some time with her and we had reminisced and had told
each other how much we cared about each other. I am very happy about
that. There was a funeral ceremony that created a truly accurate memory
picture of her, and many people came and talked about her. I loved that.
At the funeral a helpful friend reminded me to say any last things to
her and then say goodbye, and I did, and I’m glad. I notice from time to
time that I am sad when I think of her or when I am reminded of her.
And I notice, particularly around the holidays, that I miss her. And I
am aware that I have this wonderful memory of my relationship with this
incredible woman who was my grandma, and I miss her. And, I am not

Although that is a true story about grandma, it could be a different
story and create different feelings. If I had not been able to get to
see her and talk to her before she died, I might have been angry at the
circumstances that prevented that. If she and I had not gotten along so
well, I might have been angry that she died before we had a chance to
repair any damage. If those things were true, I would definitely need to
include the sense of anger that would attend the communication of any
unfinished emotional business, so I could say goodbye.

Unresolved grief is almost always about undelivered communications of an
emotional nature. There are a whole host of feelings that may be
attached to those unsaid things. Happiness, sadness, love, fear, anger,
relief, and compassion are just some of the feelings that a griever
might experience. We do not need to categorize, analyze, or explain
those feelings. We do need to learn how to communicate them and then say
goodbye to the relationship that has ended.

It is most important to understand that there are no absolutes. There
are no definitive stages or time zones for grieving. It is usually
helpful to attach feeling value to the undelivered communications that
keep you incomplete. Attaching feelings does not have to be histrionic
or dramatic, it does not even require tears. It merely needs to be
heartfelt, sincere, and honest.

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss. Grief is emotional,
not intellectual. Rather than defining stages of grief which could
easily confuse a griever, we prefer to help each griever find their own
truthful expression of the thoughts and feelings that may be keeping
them from participating in their own lives. We all bring different and
varying beliefs to the losses that occur in our lives, therefore we will
each perceive and feel differently about each loss.

Is there some confusion between anger and fear as they relate to The Grief Recovery Method?

ANSWER: A primary feeling response to loss is fear.
“How will I get along without him/her?” Anger is one of the most common
ways we express our fear. Our society taught us to be afraid of our sad
feelings, it also taught us to be afraid of being afraid. We are willing
to say “I am angry, rather than saying “it was scary.” It is possible
to create an illusion of completion by focusing on the expression of
anger. Usually anger is not the only undelivered feeling relating to
unresolved grief.

This article was written by Russell P. Freidman, executive director,
and John W. James, founder, of The Grief Recovery Institute. For more
information about their programs and services, visit their website at

Photo credit: Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock