For some reason, there’s something about people constantly quoting the five stages of grief that really irritates me. They are quoted by a counselor-type of people trying to make a meaningful point. They are consistently quoted in books, blogs, and newspaper articles. They are quoted regularly regarding everything from losing a job to moving across the country to lost hopes and dreams to loss of a pet. The “five stages” model/method seems to be one-size-fits-all. It’s become a catch-all tool.
It just bugs me. If I start to read something – obviously written by a person who has not lost a child or a dearly loved one – that quotes the Five Stages of Grief model/method, I have to quit reading the piece and move on to something else. The funny thing is that most people who deeply grieve, particularly bereaved parents, don’t quote the five stages of grief when talking about loss and grieving. They know it’s not as simple as walking through a stage or room or climbing up a stairway.
I’m sure Elisabeth Kübler-Ross meant well when she first published the Five Stages of Grief (the most frequently quoted) in her book On Death and Dying. I’m sure all of the people who earnestly quote these five stages (or any other number of stages) mean well. I’m just not sure all of them really know what they are talking about or have the depth of a great loss (especially when it comes to the death of a child) in order to address the topic of grief with empathy or understanding. I’m talking about the real, gut-wrenching, honest-go-goodness understanding of having been there. People with book-learning think they know what they’re talking about; they’ve extensively studied and read about grief. Surely, they know enough to address the topic with relative assurance that they know the topic. I guess I’m just not sure they do unless they have the life-experience to go along with it. Maybe it’s just me, but only when I have identified that someone has walked through deep, life-shattering, heart-breaking loss and has the depth of understanding that comes with that loss do I feel that person has the right to speak into my life concerning the loss and grief I feel from Jason’s death.
I guess my problem with seeing or hearing the stages of grief quoted is that they seem so tidy. They seem like they’re steps we walk up, a room we walk through. Step, step, step, step, step – and then you’re done. We picture steps as evenly spaced treads, like on a stairway, leading upward. We picture five steps as manageable in a relatively short amount of time. We picture “stages” as a room we have to walk through. The expectation then becomes, both by the bereaved and those surrounding them, that grief is just a matter of walking up the steps or going through the rooms. Alcoholics Anonymous has twelve steps; surely, five steps of grief can’t be all that difficult or take that long. Even a small house has five rooms; it doesn’t take any time at all to walk through five rooms. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Grief is not tidy steps; it’s not evenly-spaced or sure-footed stages or rooms we walk through. It’s hard, so much harder than anyone who has not been there can ever know. It’s feeling like you’re floating on an ocean of grief, and the waves seem like they’re going to drown you while you’re madly trying to keep your head above water. It’s using every bit of energy you have in reserve to get up and face a new day without your loved one. It’s taking baby steps in the dark, one at a time, along rough, foreign ground. It’s taking one step forward and falling three steps back. It’s falling down and getting back up again. It’s determining to live one moment at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time for a while. It takes a lot of energy. It takes a lot of time. There is no set or tidy pattern.
Nope – I’m not a fan of the five stage/step method of grief. I would love to hear your input.
© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney