Thoughts on Kübler-Ross' Stages of Grief

I have been a longtime admirer of the late Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  She was a pioneer known for her loving-kindness and compassion.  Her "stages of grief," as you probably already know, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  I have found in my experience as a grief counselor that people tend to expect that grief will flow easily from one stage to the next and then get confused when it doesn't happen like that to them. Many times I think we want so much to understand what is happening to us as we grieve that so we hold onto the stages as literal fact as opposed to what they are…

Yes, you probably will experience some of these feelings as you grieve, but these stages won’t instruct or really even guide you towards healing.  When you recognize that you may be bargaining or feeling angry, it may be comforting to say to yourself, “oh, this is one of the stages of grief,” but that’s pretty much where it ends…

Knowing the stages can provide you with some relief that you are not “losing it,” however, it may leave you wondering what to do with that knowledge.

In my work as a grief counselor, I have found that while many of my clients already know the stages of grief, it does not seem to be enough for them.  The stages are something that happens to you.  They aren’t something that can be controlled or predicted.  Most people find that not only do the stages not occur in the "right order," but more than one can be experienced at the same time and it is likely that one or more of them are not experienced at all.

What is important to remember when applying the stages of grief to your life is that if they are helpful, use them. Learn more about them. And if they are not helpful, look for some other kind of comfort and understanding of your experience.  From what I know of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, she was so kind and loving and would have wanted her work to provide comfort and help.  She was a prolific author and has many books that help the reader move past just knowing the stages, but what do to next.

For a great article that basically refutes the 5 stages one by one, follow the link and read "The myth of the stages of dying, death and grief" by Russell Friedman and John W. James at