Five stages of grief: Is that all there is?

July 31, 2020

By Anna Jankowska LCPC

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“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope”.

Jeremiah 29:11

I have always been fascinated with the work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross even before I became a Christian. She devoted her life to researching the grief process and described these five stages that we go through when grieving.

1.Denial:” This cannot possibly happen to me.”

2.Anger: Blaming others, ourselves, and God and being on edge.

3.Bargaining: God, if you heal my child, I will quit drinking.

4.Depression: sadness about the situation and hopelessness.

5.Acceptance: coming to peace with the loss and asking, What do I do now?

I first read her book “On death and dying” in 2004 when I encountered a new client, a middle-aged woman who attempted a suicide. It was not her first attempt to see a therapist or to attempt suicide and she came to see me only because she was referred by her primary physician.

She did not want to see me and did not want to live, and she was blatantly honest about it.

Here I was in the fourth year of my private practice and frantically searching my brain for ways of helping her and instilling some hope in her.

I was also a new believer thinking that God wants to save everyone, even those who do not want to be saved.

I remember reading about the work of Kubler Ross while still in graduate school and I knew that I had to read her book in order to help this woman live even if she did not want to live.

The book gave me something to talk about with my client especially because she herself was an avid reader but the analysis of her life and the stages of grief never went further than mere intellectual surface.

Our sessions were painful for both of us.

I was trying to understand her and her life situation but no matter what I said she told me that I could not change her mind about dying.

She explained that she had lost her husband and her best friend a few years prior but stated that she grieved their losses and was currently in the acceptance stage regarding their departure.

She also told me that she accepted her own decision regarding suicide.

I attempted to ask her questions about her spiritual life but she would get angry with me and say that she was an atheist and “Did not believe in that crap.”

Needless to say that she only attended a few sessions, and I never saw her again.

I tried to contact her and her physician, but neither of them ever responded to my emails. I felt sad and defeated.

I have to say that I was also very disappointed with the stages of grief and not very convinced that this is all that there is about a response to death and dying, especially when we are believers.

For me, the stages are a template of feelings that we oscillate around, but not all of us go through them in the same manner and not all of us reach true acceptance.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross who was the mastermind behind this research never reached the acceptance stage herself and spent 8 years in the stage of anger before she died.

She was asking, Why me? for many years and caused a lot of pain for her loved ones.They could not fathom how she could possibly have so much trouble accepting her own death when she was considered an expert on the subject of death and dying.

Is it possible that her research was just an experiment on lives of other people and she had never asked herself the very same questions she was asking her research subjects until her very death?

Would it be different if she were a believer?

Would the stages of change be different if she researched believers?

There is no research that I know of regarding Christians and grief but we can read the scripture and observe other Christians.

If you are a believer, ask yourself this question.

How do you experience grief?

From my observation of other Christians and biblical characters such as Job, David, etc. we see that the stages of grief are pretty much the same for everyone, whether you are Christian or not. The important difference for Christians is that at each stage we pray to God for his direction.

We ask why, and we listen to his answers.

We get mad, and we ask for his mercy.

We bargain, and we ask for his clarification.

We are depressed, and we ask for his help.

We are not alone at each stage because God is with us, and we feel his presence. We do not rely on ourselves but on his wisdom and support.

It might not be easier for a Christian to go through the stages of grief but there is hope throughout the entire process and a spiritual presence that gives grieving a divine purpose.

If you are grieving, please refer to the Bible verses that give you meaning and reach out to other believers to help you grieve.

“We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose for them“.Romans 8:28

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