In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published her seminal book On Death and Dying. She brought into popular consciousness the model of the Five Stages of Grief, gleaned from conversations she had had with dying patients. It was an important concept and a simple model with profound implications. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross gave the human face of death a new personal visibility. As one writer put it, “Suddenly, how people died mattered.”
We are, as an end-of-life field, infinitely grateful for the impact the Five Stages of Grief had. However, in the last 50 years, the exploration of grief models and grief theories has grown exponentially. And all of this ‘new’ information has expanded our influence and credibility to clarify and normalize the process of grieving.
There are many different facets to grief
Thanks to the focused research of hundreds of psychological, medical and spiritual professionals, here are some of the facets of grief we include in our common understanding.
• The human experience is holistic, affecting mind, body, and soul. It impacts everyone differently.
• People grieve in different ways. Stereotypes such as ‘men don’t cry’ and ‘women are all emotional’ have been shattered.
• Some griefs are worse than death.
• Grief can be described as a set of tasks, elements or processes that cover a lifetime.
• Traumatic grief is different than uncomplicated grief.
• Babies, kids and teens have their own experiences that shape their whole lives.
• Some issues make grieving people susceptible to mental and physical health issues.
• Growth and resilience can be a vital part of loss.
• Different populations have different losses– How older widows might grieve and adapt is different than unique issues that GLBT populations face.
Beyond Death and Dying
All of this research and curiosity goes into service to cradle the individual experience of grief in an interdependent society. Many end-of-life professionals feel discouraged that some medical schools still only offer one class on death and dying premised on the Five Stages of Grief. Most grief professionals are frustrated reading articles in popular press that still simplistically attempt to describe this complex life transition, exclusively through the Five Stages.
To live a healthy life, we each need to understand and respect our own experiences of grief, beyond Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. And objectivity plays a large part in how we learn to respect and support the grief experience of others. Looking at grief in all its facets makes us more mature helpers to our clients and patients, and more compassionate fellows to each other. Great gratitude to everyone whose work continues to illuminate the human journey of holding truth and letting go.
See things with new eyes
Kim Mooney’s workshops, presentations and consultations take the fear out of approaching the subject of death, so we can relate to the idea of grief and dying with forethought, deliberation and advocacy. Learn more about Kim’s work with individuals and groups, and her soon-to-be launching desktop lunch and learning for professionals.