Most everyone has heard of the stages of grief. They are everywhere in our society. This model dictates that in order to grieve properly, a person who has recently lost a loved one will go through the following stages in a neat order:
Sometimes, people get stuck bargaining, and spend weeks on their knees in church, praying for the return of their loved one. ‘Healthy’ grief is grief that moves rapidly through the stages before settling on acceptance and allowing the bereaved to move forward.
The stages of grief were first laid out by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. But these were not intended to be the stages of grief as a generic emotional event. They were actually the stages of the acceptance of one’s own impending death. That is a far cry from being a description of all grief. But this is only the beginning of the problems with the concept.
Three weeks of writer’s block is where the stages of grief actually came from. It turns out that even Kübler-Ross’ subsequent book On Grief and Grieving brings up the five stages, but couples them with the caveat that they do not always happen in the same order (which begs the question ‘why call them stages at all?’)
The problem with the notion of the ‘stages’ of grief is twofold. First, it implies that there is a ‘wrong way’ to grieve. For example, if you were never angry about your loved one’s death, you are somehow ‘holding back’ or ‘keeping in’ something that needs to come out.
However, by emphasizing the negative emotions that grief causes in our daily lives, the Kübler-Ross stages have taught us that we are not allowed to celebrate the lives of our loved ones. Instead, we are supposed to go through ‘healthy’ periods of anger and depression. This has, in turn, caused our society to view people who are capable of celebrating as somehow bad or wrong.
The simple fact is that there is no wrong way to grieve, and if you decide you want to spend your time being grateful for the relationship you had, you are going to be a much more valuable person to those you have left. The idea that it is mandatory for someone to deliberately undermine their quality of life by being angry, depressed, and aloof is not just silly, it can be downright destructive.