by Susan Drevitch Kelly, Life Transition Coach

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you don’t need a dictionary to tell you what grief is—you know it, feel it, and you deal with it every day—a sense of profound and deep sorrow.

There are so many books that have been written about grief, and many theories and models that have been developed on the cycles of grief, to try to help us understand what has happened and our reactions to it.

Probably the most well-known and recognized is the Five Stages of Grief Model developed by Swiss psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. This “blueprint” was based on her work with terminally ill cancer patients and the common stages they experienced with the progression of their diagnosis, disease and anticipated death. She introduced this groundbreaking model in her book, On Death and Dying, first published in 1969.

The Five Stages of Grief [Shock/Denial; Anger; Regrets/Guilt; Profound Sadness/Depression; Acceptance] aren’t intended to tell us exactly how our grief will unfold and progress. Instead, the idea of the stages is to help us make sense of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual reactions that are commonly experienced during the grief process.

The “framework” of the five stages isn’t telling you what to do — what should be happening; rather, it’s just giving you language to help you understand what’s happening – what you’re thinking-how you’re feeling as you go through the grieving process.

If you are dealing with a profound loss in your life, before you try to make sense out of your feelings and reactions to this life-changing event, it is really important to understand and reflect on some “grief facts”:

  1. Grief is Not a Linear Process – and neither are the five stages of grief. You may not experience them in the specific order observed by Kübler-Ross in her research, and you many not even experience all of them.
  2. Your Grief is Unique to You. No one else will experience and react to your loss the way you will because no one else had the exact same relationship with your loved one. When and how you experience the various stages will be different and unique to you because your grief is unique to you.
  3. Grief does not follow a Specific Time Line: unfortunately, the grieving process is not a “neat and tidy” process, moving from one phase to the next. Grief does not follow any specific timeline and everyone grieves differently.
  4. The Tangled Ball of Yarn: If you were to draw a picture of your journey through grief, it would be unlikely to look like a straight line progressing through the stages of loss. In reality, it might look more like a tangled web. You may progress from denial to regret to acceptance, back to denial, on to anger and depression, and so on.

The Five Stages of Grief are not intended to give us an exact map of our grief journey, moving us from point A to point B and eventually on to the final “destination” of healing, acceptance and recovery.

Instead, the idea of the stages is to help us make sense out of how we’re feeling during this difficult journey. You may find yourself bouncing back and forth between stages; or, you may be feeling stuck in one phase, such as “regrets,” months after a loss; or, you haven’t experienced one of these phases, such as anger. The main point to understand and embrace: you shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with you, or that you must progress to the next phase in order to heal.

To understand these defined stages- to be able to recognize them as phases in the grieving process – will help you to deal with how you are feeling and reacting, and ultimately help you with your healing.

Whether you’re just beginning your grief journey, or you’re “stuck” in a stage or you’ve proceeded through all five stages and thought you had finally reached the acceptance phase, only to slide back to denial or anger again, you don’t have to go through your grief alone. Consider joining a grief support group in your area. There is a unique and powerful support system to be found in the dynamics of a group of people with a common thread that binds them.

Grieve Not Alone is a grief support group, created in 2020, sponsored by the Scituate Senior Center, facilitated by the author, Susan Drevitch Kelly, and open to anyone located on the South Shore. Registration for the next group program, a 16-session series of interactive workshops, will begin in August, 2023 and launch in mid-September. For additional information, contact Jessica Souke, Program Coordinator, Scituate Senior Center: 781-545-8722 x4.