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What the 5 Stages of Grief Left Out

5 stages imageMost of us have heard them.

The 5 Stages of Grief created by Elizabeth Kubler Ross:


The 5 Stages are a lovely idea that package grief up in a nice and neat way. Do this, then this, followed by this, this, and this and you are done. You made it! You hit all the stages and now you don’t have to grieve anymore.

Ok, so I’m being a bit of a smart a**.

Unfortunately, that is all too often how the 5 Stages of Grief are interpreted.

People want to take the 5 stages and interpret them to mean that grief is linear, close ended, and simple.

That would be wonderful, but that’s not how grief works.

Grief is messy. It’s complex and multi-layered. It can be sneaky and subtle, loud and quiet, harsh and soft, bittersweet and just bitter.

Sure, grief can involve anger, depression, denial, bargaining and acceptance. Sometimes it involves all of these feelings all at once. Grief can also include relief, rage, peace, fury, bittersweetness, jealousy, envy, confusion, frustration, numbness, despair and a thousand other variations of emotion. We feel so much more than these 5 basic emotions.

Grief is not as simple and orderly as the 5 Stages are often interpreted. It’s not even as simple as saying we cycle through these stages in different ways and different times.

The 5 Stages of Grief leave out the complexity and individuality that is grief and love, for what is grief but an expression of love?

Every relationship between any two people is completely unique and individual. That also means that every experience of loss and grief is also completely unique and individual. Everyone grieves in their own unique way. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, no set timeline, and no clear-cut path to walk on one’s journey with grief.

There is grief and there is your way of learning to live while grieving.

When someone we deeply love dies, we miss and grieve for them for a lifetime. This grief will ebb and flow, circle around, ease until we think it’s gone and then flood back unexpectedly. Grief’s form will change, not unlike relationships shift and change over time, but as long as love is present for the one we lost, so will grief.

And love never dies.

It’s not that the 5 stages are wrong exactly. Technically, many of us experience denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance along our grief journey.

It’s just that the 5 stages leave out the richness, intricacy, paradox, and subtleties of love, relationship, and grief.

No one could ever sum up the complexities of a relationship in a linear, simplified 5 stages. Relationships are full of many facets and layers, nuances and intricacies. This is true for the relationship we have with our loved one and for our grief process after that loved one dies.

Love and grief are so much more than 5 simple stages.


  1. Post comment

    The sad thing is that these five stages were never intended to be about grieving. Elizabeth Kubler Ross developed the five stages of DYING. Somewhere along the way, these stages got transferred to grieving which has caused far more harm than good because it doesn’t apply to most people’s experience of grieving. In addition, it causes stress to.people because they worry they’re not doing it “right.”

    1. Post comment

      Exactly. For me, it’s not even so much what Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote or taught – it’s that it has been so very misunderstood and improperly applied to situations. That’s what has turned it from something potentially helpful, to something more often than not harmful.


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