Exit: "Stage" Left!

Often there is reference to the "stages of grief" in popular culture, literature, magazines, and social media.  This idea comes out of the 1969 published writings of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist and death and dying expert who conducted hundreds of qualitative interviews with those who were actively dying. In her book, On Death and Dying, Kubler-Ross explained that several "themes" emerged in her interviews with the dying; and she labeled these themes as "stages."  Although, Kubler-Ross clearly stated that her work was with individuals who were dyingnevertheless the model that she crafted has been - and continues to be - overlaid and imposed upon individuals who are grieving. Needless to say, these are two totally different sets of people who are experiencing two totally different sets of experiences.

Additionally, Kubler-Ross's research also indicated that not everyone who is dying experiences all of the stages; and she was also clear that these "stages" were not always experienced linearly.  That is to say that some dying people might "jump around" from one stage to another, or they may actually revisit certain stages several times as opposed to following a straight path from one stage to another.  Alternately, according to Kubler-Ross, some who are dying may not experience certain specific stages at all.  The model is not as simple as it may seem!  Despite all of this, many of these above-mentioned nuances in Kubler-Ross's work have been - and continue to be - ignored, misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misapplied to those who are grieving a loss of any type. 

Despite its shortcomings, the "stages of grief" model has, at least, served to open up a larger cultural dialogue around grief and loss; and it provides some type of a framework that attempts to capture (albeit with limitations) a process that can often be elusive, confusing and uncomfortable to address and discuss.

Tony Morelli