The Truth About the Stages of Grief

For decades, the seven stages of grief – shock, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression and acceptance – have been promoted as an illustration of the steps every human being goes through when facing the loss of a loved one. But where do these stages come from and is this five-step process a mirror of reality? The answers might surprise you.

Although they sound like they’ve been around for centuries, the stages of grief actually date back to 1969, when they debuted in a best-selling book called On Death and Dying. The stages were developed based on interviews with terminally ill patients – and the author didn’t ask these patients about their own perceptions of these stages; instead, she said she came up with the idea of the stages during a late-night brainstorming session some time after her book idea had already been accepted by a publisher. What’s more, the stages she conceived didn’t pertain to the reactions of people dealing with the death of a loved one, but rather with the steps a person goes through when confronted with their own imminent death.

Still, even though it was not based on any concrete evidence or scientific studies, the idea of the five stages of grief has been widely promoted, so much so that today, it stands as accepted fact. And that’s really a shame, because in fact, grief is a highly personal experience and one that cannot be quantified in a one-size-fits-all formula. It’s no wonder, then, that so many myths and misconceptions have arisen as a result. Here are some of the most common ones:

MYTH: Grieving Is Linear

The grieving process is unique to each person. Each person experiences grief in his or her own way, and on his or her own timeline. Some people may complete the “main” grieving process in a relatively short period of time, while for others, it may take months or years. Neither is the “right” way to grieve, and a faster or different grieving process is no indication of the level of love a person bears for the deceased.

MYTH: A Person Must Go Through Each of the Five Stages to “Complete” the Grieving Process

The grieving process is based a great deal on emotions, and one person’s emotions and emotional responses can vary dramatically from another’s. For instance, not everyone will experience anger or denial, and some people may never fully accept a death, even years after it occurs.

MYTH: Once You Go Through a Stage, You Never Revisit It

It’s not uncommon to go through multiple “stages” at once or to revisit a stage more than once. Often, a holiday or other event can trigger some or all of the feelings of stages of grief, and these triggering events can occur again and again.

MYTH: Each Stage is Separate

The seven stages may be most useful as a general guideline to help people understand what types of emotions they may experience as they mourn, but they are in no way a set-in-stone roadmap to the grieving process, and most people experience an array of emotions after losing a loved one that don’t necessarily fit into a pre-defined notion of what grief is.

The bottom line is that grieving is a deeply personal experience. There is no “right” way to grieve, and limiting the way you grieve or believing you’re grieving in the “wrong” way can result in feelings of guilt or frustration that can make the mourning process much more difficult.

Be kind to yourself and be patient with others, and choose to remember and grieve for your loved one in the manner that’s most natural for you. For support resources after the death of a loved one, reach out to Boston Cremation. Contact us today – we can help.26

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