Are you struggling with processing your grief over the loss of a dear one? Do you feel lost and rudderless? Have you faced the daunting challenge of comforting someone who has experienced such a profound loss? Did you struggle with how to best help them? Would you value a model that helps you understand what a person experiencing grief is going through? Would you be thankful if your deeper understanding helped you process your loss or provide support to a friend who is processing theirs?
The Seven Stages of Grief model evolved from a 1969 model developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross based on her experience working with the terminally ill. By 1999, she had published Grief and Grieving, applying her model to grief in general. Since then, others have expanded her model to seven stages.
The Seven Stages of Grief:
The model deals with grieving as a process. Its stages progress through 1. Disbelief & Shock, 2. Denial, 3. Guilt & Pain, 4. Bargaining, 5. Anger, 6. Depression and 7. Acceptance. The model can help the person experiencing grief, and those supporting them, understand the stage they are currently experiencing and why. It can help both realize that the griever’s experiences are normal, that they are not alone. It can give direction and hope as to how to move to the next stage. It can show the way to achieving the seventh stage of overcoming their grief and living a fulfilled life.
Many experience the seven stages in sequence. When the shock subsides, their innate defences produce denial. After accepting the reality of the loss, they experience the pain and guilt of feeling they should have done something before the loss. Their feelings of guilt and helplessness often lead to turning in desperation to bargaining with a higher power to take away their loss in return for a sacrifice they will make. When they realize this is not going to happen, the only response left to them is lashing out in anger which, unresolved, may damage ongoing relationships. Eventually, they may feel overwhelmed and experience feelings of wanting to be alone to reflect on the past. Each stage can take considerable time and cannot be rushed. Finally, acceptance may come from opening themselves up to the situation, from getting out of the house and from doing things they have wanted to do or have not had the opportunity to do.
Although the model comprises seven consecutive stages, they may not play out in sequence. Each individual griever may experience it differently. Some may skip over stages. Many do not experience all seven stages. For example, it is not uncommon to bypass the Denial, Bargaining and Anger stages. Many may not experience the stages in sequence. For example, Anger may precede Bargaining. Depression may be experienced earlier and be experienced more than once again after any stage. However, in time, all will experience the healing of the seventh stage.
Having applied the model to my grief at the passing of my late wife, I realized my search for discovering life’s purpose was following a similar seven-stage model. In my work with others in discovering the meaning of their lives, I find they too experience a similar seven-stage model. As in the Seven Stages of Grief model, the journey of discovering life’s meaning may skip some stages or experience them out of sequence.