We get a lot wrong about grief.
Many people are familiar with the five stages of grief first popularized by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” Denial. Anger. Depression. Bargaining. Acceptance. What many people don’t realize, however, is that Kubler-Ross developed this model of the grief process for terminally ill patients confronting the realities of their own impending death.
Anticipating and accepting your own mortality is a different psychological process than mourning the loss of someone you love. Yet, Kubler-Ross’ model has been superimposed on bereavement in a way that I think can sometimes be deleterious. The messy experiences of humanity can rarely be put in neat, predictable boxes. The process of grief is predictable in some ways but also has idiosyncracies. It's curvilinear and indefininte.
We don’t get over loss, we assimilate it.
When you lose someone you love, life is altered. You move forward, forever changed. The world is never the same. Grief is a process that does not have a finish line. It involves a complex amalgam of emotions that crash against someone with a somewhat unpredictable, imprecise pattern—people who are grieving experience different feelings, at different times, to different degrees. No day, no month, no year is exactly the same.
I am uncomfortable with the wide application of Kubler-Ross’s framework because it signals, on some level, that grief is something you move through in consecutive steps and eventually finish. I favor a “task” model to the experience of responding to grief. It captures the work of assimilating loss and adapting as we live in the after. J. William Worden developed a framework of four tasks that are a part of the process that follows loss:
Task 1: Accept the reality of the loss.
Task 2: Process the pain of the loss
Task 3: Adjust to a world without who (or what) was lost
Task 4: Develop an enduring connection with the person who is deceased in a meaningful way that allows you to continue to move forward, unarrested, in your future
Grief and loss are immutable, inescapable realities of human existence. Grief is not a process to complete. It is a winding road to traverse. It’s time to move away from a descriptive staged model of grief. This kind of paradigm creates unrealistic expectations and can cause people to question their own unique reactive process.
There is no wrong way to grieve.
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