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The five stages of grief
Everyone responds to loss by grieving in their own way. For most of us, this is a process that we can work through over time. We never ‘get over’ our losses and will always carry reminders in our day to day lives. For some of us, grief can dominate our thoughts and emotions and can lead to depression or other long-term mental health issues.
The information in this blog is general in nature; aimed at helping to understand what we and those around us may be experiencing at times of loss and bereavement. If you are affected by grief and need help, there are many services and supports you can contact. You can ask your GP or ring helplines such as Lifeline ph: 13 11 44 for guidance.
Stages of grief
In the late 1960’s psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published a model of grieving based on her work with people who were terminally ill. This model outlines five stages of grief. It has been adapted and updated over the years and applied more generally to people facing various types of losses. While there are criticisms of the model, the basic concepts are a good starting point to understanding what many people experience when faced with a loss.
Denial - This stage can be characterised by disbelief, avoidance or unwillingness to discuss the loss.
Anger – in this stage people may express anger, outrage, frustration. People might say things like: “It’s not fair!” or “Why me?” or look for someone to blame.
Bargaining – In Kübler-Ross’ model, people who were terminally ill would try to ‘bargain’ their way out of dying. For example, asking for additional treatment, or delaying surgery until a significant birthday has happened. Other forms of ‘bargaining’ might be expressing an irrational hope.
Depression – once a person has tried everything to deal with the loss, the next phase is sadness and depression. People may ‘lose hope’ in this phase.
Acceptance – at this stage a grieving person can acknowledge their loss and incorporate their experience into the rest of their lives. It is not the same as ‘getting over it’, but it means that people can talk about their experience and manage their emotions in a way which is not overwhelming.
Key points about the model are:
- The stages are not linear. People can move backwards and forwards over time. Sometimes people can be ‘stuck’ in a stage of grief.
- Not everyone will experience every stage or be affected equally by each stage.
- Every person is unique, and every loss situation is different.
The importance of ceremony
Ceremonies help individuals, families and communities work through loss and grief. The Celebrants Network has experienced and compassionate celebrants across Australia who can assist in developing a ceremony to acknowledge bereavement and loss.
Hi Melanie, Thanks for your comment. I would love to write a blog sometime in the future. best wishes,Sue
Thanks for your feedback Susanne; it is appreciated.
The Celebrants Network social media team would love to hear from you if you would like to write a blog on this or any other topic!
Yes you are right there are many theories and models to help us understand the grieving process. I’m sorry if this article has caused you distress.
The key point is that everyone responds to grief differently, and this reaction will change over time.
There are many organisations available to assist people dealing with grief. Beyond Blue has a good list:
Melanie, I am not distressed or grieving just disturbed that you should make central in your educational blog the superceded and discredited theories of Elizabeth Kubler Ross. Kubler Ross was around in the late '60s and was great at lifting the taboo of talking about death and dying. A lot of research has accumulated since then of course, suggest you have a look at 'continuing bonds'.
I'm really disappointed to see this blog on the five stages of grief. This is from Elizabeth Kubler Ross of course and these theories have been superseded by much more useful ones that incorporate 'continuing bonds' and establishing meaning for our experiences. I have experienced a lot of grief in my life and have not found the 5 stages at all helpful. I have even found them harmful.