By Susan Drevitch Kelly

Life Transition Coach

So many books have been written about grief that present a variety of theories and models on the cycles of grief and loss, all with the intent 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 and anticipated death. She introduced this groundbreaking model in her book, “On Death and Dying,” first published in 1969. 

These five stages, which Kubler-Ross describes as Shock and Denial; Anger; Regrets, and Guilt; Profound Sadness and Depression; and Acceptance, aren’t intended to tell us exactly how our grief will unfold and progress. Instead, the idea of the stages is to provide a framework to help us make sense of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual reactions that are commonly experienced during the grief process. 

Fifty years later, in 2019, a newer model, with the addition of a sixth stage of grief, was developed and introduced by David Kessler, a protégé of Kubler-Ross, with the release of his book “Finding Meaning.” Kessler, who studied under Kubler-Ross and co-authored her final book, “On Grief and Grieving,” has become recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on grief. Kessler believes that there was always an implied finality to the fifth stage of grief, Acceptance, which was never intended by Kubler-Ross. 

Acceptance of our loss, the acknowledgement of this new and difficult reality is not easy, and can actually be extremely painful. And acceptance doesn’t mean that we are suddenly OK with our loss, or that the grieving process is now “officially” over, something our family and friends may assume or hope for. The reality is that our grief will lessen in intensity over time, but it will never be completely over.

Kessler feels that this sixth stage of grief, finding meaning and purpose, is actually crucial to the healing process. He believes that if you allow yourself to move fully into this sixth stage, you can begin to find a path forward from your loss. Just as with all of the other stages of grief, this sixth stage, meaning and purpose, will be unique to you. It can take many shapes and forms. Only you can find your own meaning. Perhaps your grief will be replaced by gratitude for the time you did have together. Or maybe your focus will shift from your loss to the wonderful love shared and the beautiful memories created. In this stage, you will begin to appreciate the fragility, brevity, and value of life and can use this stage as a springboard into some kind of shift of priorities or change in your life. 

This is the beginning of a new year, and a perfect time to think about creating a new path forward to finding a new you. Navigating your way into this sixth stage will help you recover, redefine, rebuild, reconstruct your life. Loss is part of the human experience, something that happens to you in life, while meaning is what you make happen with your life after loss. Meaning is finding a way to sustain your love for the person you lost while moving forward and figuring out how to live life after loss.

May this new year be a new beginning for you.