Bereavement: Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Loss and Grief

Abstract: A reflective piece on the five stages of normal grief first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 in “On Death and Dying”, and include Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression & Acceptance.

Prior to giving my perspective here is an abstract of an article by Julie Axelrod covering loss, bereavement and grief.

The article describes how:  Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited.  The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.  Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process.  The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you.  Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Jonathan’s perspective

In work with clients we work with their interpretation of the process they are going through.   In my own experience with life threatening cancer I found that the needs of the hospital priest and the Macmillan nurse were placed ahead of my own with them requiring me to pray and accept death (I did neither). The nurse’s determination that the Kübler-Ross model was something I would have to accept was very frustrating, especially when accompanied with ‘You are in the stage of: …’.

Comments by David Kessler:

From Kübler-Ross’s biography, prior to her own death, she became disillusioned with her effect on the American medical establishment.

“Even now, when we have 2,700 hospices in America, 80 percent of our doctors try not to refer patients to a hospice,” she said. “They see death as their failure.”

But what really made Kübler- Ross question her legacy was her own encounter with medicine in the 1990s after suffering a major stroke.

“After teaching doctors and nurses for decades, I was in the hospital after my stroke, and it was like my work was nonexistent,” she said. “The nurses never came to see their patients. They would just sit out there in front of their computers.

“When I left the hospital, I was so depressed,” she said. “It was like my work for four decades had gone down the drain. Nobody learned anything. I only had one good nurse in six weeks in the hospital. It’s a disgrace.”

Jonathan’s final word

From a Humanistic perspective our own process when faced with our mortality and how we respond to the loss of our loved ones is very much individual and unique.  It is what it is.  Some of my clients who have faced bereavement, suffered overwhelming grief; others felt deep guilt at not grieving enough.  A common theme is where we struggle with not having been able to have said what we needed to say.  Working with bereavement can be very rewarding, with outcomes offering clients an opportunity to define their losses often in terms of love and wholeness.

For the full articles see:

Julie Axelrod:


David Kessler:


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