On Grief and Grieving: Finding The Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler
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Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler. On Grief and Grieving: Finding The Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. New York, NY: Scribner 2005. 256 pp $15.00
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss was the last book Elisabeth Kubler Ross wrote after working for years with patients who were going through the process of dying. She introduced the world to the concept of the five stages of dying – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – and applied these stages to the process of grieving. The stages, Kubler Ross explained “are merely tools and not everyone goes through all of them nor in a prescribed order.” Page 27 An individual may cycle through all/some of the stages of grief before a person dies. This has been woven together through both professional as well as brief stories, a fitting completion to her lifetime work. Grieving she explained required learning and this book teaches with short, clear and concise stories surrounding circumstances others have faced loosing loved ones. I found this in a more tangible humane way to teach relevant insightful advice.
The stages were written with positive rationale in that each stage contains stories to exemplify what grief looks like from a positive perspective. This brings about an understanding, relief to those going through this process with realistic scenarios.
The book was divided into seven chapters, each chapter a unique facet of the grieving process. The book began by explaining how words carry emotions and have unimagined consequences. One concept which stayed with me involved summation of the process of death, “Death viewed as a transition into a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive understand and grow “ (p. 111) is a beautiful summation of this process, and I utilize this in my practice. The power of language and how one describes processes can have a profound effect on the healing process.
The Inner World of Grief looks at several emotions that may be experienced including relief, regrets, guilt and resentment. I found this extremely helpful on a personal level as I have been working through family grief this past month with my partner's sister having a terminal illness. I can now put a face on the wide variety of experiences mentioned. This chapter resonated with me whole heartedly how no two people experience death/grieve in the same way.
The flood of emotions one experiences during grieving are vast and need to be honored. This can present itself as a deep well of emotions occurring at the same time. Putting a name on the emotions honors this and one can then begin the work of healing. This chapter helped with both personal experience as well as crisis work for grief covering both. It also spoke to roles people have in life. Loved ones play many roles and parts in our lives. “These roles won't be lost and will be carried with you for the rest of your life. Grief has a purpose.” (p. 76)
The purpose of grief was proposed. “Those who grieve well live well: it is the healing process of the heart, soul and mind and is the path that returns us to wholeness “ page 229 “Hardships are an opportunity for growth.” (p. 95) Elisabeth Kubler Ross speaks of grief needing to be fully experienced as loss takes an enormous amount of strength, it gives meaning to loss and honors loved ones. This chapter had information on fantasy, dreams and after life as valid emotional venues honoring the spiritual experience of grieving. One important theme recurring throughout this section is finding healthy ways to honor feelings, let self be seen and grief to be externalized (such as letter writing, seeking a healthy therapist).
Following this, a chapter was dedicated to special circumstances where the author touched on grief of children and multiple losses affecting grief such as natural disasters. When one represses grief, it has the potential to surface in adulthood in unhealthy ways. Trauma will often invite us to learn about our strengths. Grief following suicide was touched on as well, noting that healing after such trauma is extremely complicated. According to Kubler Ross, before one can work through grief you need to work through the feelings of grief which often include guilt, and shame.
Everyone feels the depth of loss. We are challenged to find closure quickly and the reality is “Everyone grieves, you simply don't get over the loss of a loved one, but you learn how to live with it.” page 230 “One person's dying touches many people in many different ways and everyone feels that loss individually: to see it as only you can.” (p. 30).
This book closes with an after thought putting closure on grief as a gift.”Grief always works, grief alone has the power to heal.” (p 227). Indeed many problems in our lives stem from grief, unresolved and unhealed. We need to teach from an early age how to cope with loss.
This book I found to be written in a humane and compassionate way with relevant advice. It ends on a hopeful level teaching us what we can learn when our individual timetable suggests. Indeed understanding grieving and the plethora of emotions it entails is an important tool. [Arguably the greatest meta fear is the fear of death. Loss is inevitable, we all will grieve. Now with WHEE (taught in the WTT course) we have an additional tool to heal. This book served as a wonderful resource emphasizing the uniqueness of one's journey. Grief does heal but everyone heals in their own way. To be able to assist in the grieving process (for healing, installing new patterns) is the ultimate gift. This is perhaps one of the greatest understanding in preparing ourselves of grief/dying is ultimately how we will live.
Book review by Pam Fages, RN/RPN
Student in Wholistic Transformational Therapy
Department of Integrated Energy Healing
Langara College, Vancouver, BC
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