The 5 Stages of Grief

In an effort to understand their loss and grief, bereaved clients often ask whether there are stages of grieving. Many have heard of the 5 stages of grief, referred to by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, “On Grief and Grieving.” The 5 stages she refers to are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Kubler-Ross uses these as “tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling” during our bereavement. She makes it clear that they are not steps on a linear time frame in the grieving process. Some people do not go through all of them, nor are they always met in a prescribed order.

Kubler-Ross uses the stage of denial to denote the period of shock and numbness that pervades the beginning of the healing process. Not only does the bereaved person feel numb, but they can’t believe their loved one is dead. This thought is too much for the psyche. They are simply not ready to take in the enormity of the loss. In the beginning of the grieving process, the body/mind is preparing itself to be able to let in the reality of the trauma, which it does in stages as we are able to receive and process the loss. I believe that what is important here is that we are gifted with a natural healing process that takes us through the journey of healing from any deep loss if we are willing to take the time for it and to actively partner with the process.

In relation to the stage of acceptance, the process of letting go denial and accepting that the physical reality of our loved one is gone characterizes the bereavement journey. Depression and anger and many other feeling states, for example guilt, are a natural part of that journey. Bargaining seems to be meant by Kubler-Ross as a component of denial and guilt: “Please, God, let me fall asleep and wake up realizing this was a dream, “ or “What if I had paid attention to the weather report and we had not gone swimming,” etc. The “what if” and the “if only” statements are part of the process of giving the psyche time to adjust to the reality of the loss.

We heal by accepting in our deepest selves that the physical manifestation of our loved one is gone, by “acknowledging all that has been lost and learning to live with that loss.” I believe that beyond acceptance lies the slow process of reframing the relationship to our deceased loved one. Their life, and life with us, is so much bigger than their death. In releasing the physical manifestation of them from our hearts, we can begin to experience our relationship to our loved one as a gift that nourishes our lives. Far from betraying that relationship, we honor it in being able to make new meaning of our lives. Finally, we express the enduring love we had together by bringing it into new relationship and into new connections.

Several people have responded to my question regarding some of the special issues and challenges they face in their twin loss

To Caryn:Not remembering your twin’s voice: I feel for you. I remember so well when that happened to me. It felt like another mini death of my twin. I had to let go this loss along with the other physical aspects of my twin brother that are gone forever, even in memory. It will help if you write down how it feels for you to lose the sound of your twin’s voice. Saying it out loud is good. The important thing is that you express your feelings in some form: poetry, song, movement, diary, therapy, etc. In doing so, you are integrating your loss and bearing witness to your twin’s life. At the same time, you are taking a step forward on your healing path. In the end, his voice will have melted into his presence and his love, which forever belongs to you.

To Jennifer:Triggers – oh, my, yes…someone’s voice, a particular smell, a birthday, a holiday, a song, a view, etc.- all produce the emotional memories that are the meat of our healing process. They can come after days of feeling that you can cope. They can come after years. They usually come out of the blue and land you smack in the middle of your grieving path. The important thing is that this path is your healing path. Your body/mind knows when you are ready for a new healing step along that path. As I said above, allow these feelings – do not push them away. Trust in the healing process – express the feelings in some form, so they can be released and will, in themselves, be integrated, moving you forward in your healing process.

To Sherry & Cheryl: On the instinct to talk to our twins: I feel the world of reality and knowing is much larger than our minds can take in. When I get the feeling that I want to share something with my twin, I would talk to him in my mind. As my healing has progressed, I feel more and more that he somehow shares in my experience. I sometimes feel his reaction – his smile or his frown, etc. As Sherry says, I feel he knows. His knowing becomes part of my experience and judgment when I need it. I realize my experience is very personal – others may be different.

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© 2014 Mary R. Morgan