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In the 23 Myths About Grief Survey, the myth that received the most votes is Myth 23 “All bereaved people go through 5 stages. Grieving has a linear trajectory.”
Myth : “All bereaved people go through 5 stages. Grieving has a linear trajectory.”
We often hear about 5 typical stages of the grieving journey. Does this model apply to all grief? Does every grieving person really go through these 5 stages?
The answer is no. Not only is grief unpredictable, it is unique to each person and is not linear. It is normal for a bereaved to skip certain steps, relive steps already taken, or even more so, to experience other steps not listed in this model.
Before covering the topic of the 5-step model, it is important to consider all types of grief.
Grief is not just about death
Typically, the most painful grief is the death of a loved one. Since death is irreversible, a second chance is impossible. This is the type of grief, also called “conventional grief”, that we hear most often as there is no hope of seeing the person again.
The discomfort you were feeling might have been grief
There are, however, several forms of grief. It is likely that you (or a member of your family) have grieved in the past without even knowing it. Grief does not only happen after the death of a loved one. In fact, grief is more about loss. There are many forms of loss and death is just one.
Definition of grief
Grief is a natural response to loss and is not a mental illness. It is the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, grief also includes physical, behavioral, cognitive, social, cultural, and philosophical elements.
30 Other Events that can Cause Grief (life experiences)
Below is a list of 30 other types of events, other than the loss of a loved one, that can cause grief. These life events can create some feelings of grief ; denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance and much more. As you can see at #24, even a pandemic can create grief (pandemic grief).
5 Stages of Grief
A range of emotions and reactions accompany grief, and it is impossible to know in what order they will arise. For these reasons, a model on the stages of grief has limitations. On the other hand, a model can be useful in understanding certain emotions better. In another post, I will include all the emotions and stages that are often associated with grief, not just these five. There are many more than five, and I will speak of our own experience.
However, for today, I will introduce the most famous model, the “5 stages of Grief” model . Defined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, the “5 Stages” have entered popular culture as a benchmark for grief. However, many were unaware that Kübler-Ross originally developed the 5 sequential stages following a study of terminally ill patients. It was never even meant to apply to bereaved people who had experienced loss.
Based on this model, the 5 stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Even if it is not a comprehensive model and we know that grief is not linear, it still serves as a good basis to better empathize with the person who is grieving (any type of grief). This infographic diagram illustrates the 5-stages model.
To better understand the 5-step model, I created 3 grief scenarios (see below) that I will use to illustrate examples of reactions. You can see that only Scenario # 1 is a typical bereavement caused by the death of a loved one.
Grief Examples (typical reactions following a loss)
Below are brief definitions of the 5 stages of grief, as well as concrete examples to help understand the different emotions and reactions. The examples are based on the 3 scenarios above; for example all #1s are associated with “Joanie’s” scenario of the sudden loss of her mother.
Please note that for the last step, Acceptance, it does not entail that the person feels okay with the loss. The pain is still felt, but you the person can envisage their life without their loved one. As for myself, I will never accept Zackaël’s death and the way he died. How can I? But I will accept that life continues. It will never the same, but I will ensure that our lives be enriched by Zackaël’s presence and memory.
In a subsequent post, I will speak more about our own experience with the stages of grieving. I will include other stages and emotions that weren’t presented today, and relate them to my grief, that of my husband, and that of my son.
If you haven’t had the chance to see this video, I am including the link here. It’s about 10 Reasons why we should educate ourselves about Grief.
Lastly, I am recommending this article which includes an infographic with 15 concrete examples of “What not to say” and “What to say instead” to someone who is grieving. Click on the link to view the full list of examples.
That’s it for now! Have you ever grieved without knowing it was grief? Any thoughts on any of these 5 stages? I would love to hear your opinions in the comments!
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