In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published a book titled On Death and Dying. In that book, she outlined what is colloquially known today as The Stages of Grief. Whether you’ve heard of the five stages, or think that there are seven, you almost certainly have read about them, watched a TV show that referenced them, listened to a song that listed them.
These stages are supposed to be helpful for us all to understand where we are at in our grieving process. They are supposed to give us a light at the end of the tunnel to the end of this feeling of loss.
And yet, the stages of grief have been debunked time and time again. They are not real. Even Elisabeth Kubler-Ross herself said that the stages of grief are outlines for how you accept the news of your own death, not how you grieve the loss of a significant person and relationship in your life.
Cool –– so, if the stages of grief aren’t real, what is?
New research on grief on grief in the western world has been mostly done in Australia. There, organizations like The Groundswell Project have been partnering with universities for years to better understand what grief looks like, and how we can help people going through it.
In the US, there has been a recent upswing of interest in “grief wellness.” Dying Well itself was named a Global Wellness Trend in 2019, and many grief wellness folks see their stance as a natural extension of Dying Well.
What is grief wellness?
Grief wellness is a whole body and mind program personalized to your specific type of grieving and loss. The goal is to show people that while 100% of us will grieve, we don’t have to spiral into a depression. There are steps we can take to better understand grief in general, and better cope with it.
Truths About Grief
Grief will never end: There is no end of the road to grief. Once you experience it, it is with you for life.
Grief comes in waves and intensities: The first few years of grief will be more intense than others, but it will continue to come back in waves for the rest of your life.
Grief isn’t just about sadness: Grief also includes anger, joy, nostalgia and so many other emotions. It is not a one-size-fits-all, nor is it a singular emotion or experience.
Grief can be helped through memorialization: The idea of continuing bonds is being studied in the United States by Baylor University and memorial diamond company Eterneva (which has Mark Cuban as an investor!). Continuing bonds is the idea that a mobile memorial can help you bring your loved one with you into the next chapter of your life, and provide comfort in ways other memorials might not.
Grief changes us: And that’s OK! It’s supposed to.
Grief Research in the United States is Coming
In the United States, though, most of us have no idea how to grieve. We do not have the benefit of a collective healing experience; instead, we have adopted the phrase, everyone grieves differently, as a slogan that allows people the freedom to respond to their feelings on an individual basis.
With very few grieving rituals in the U.S., people must rely on their own intuition for guidance, and that lonely and confusing time is usually not aided by a shared understanding of how to respond to grief the way it is in other cultures.
There is, of course, a culturally talked about mourning period –– that of the stages of grief. However, those stages have since been proven inaccurate, both by researchers and by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross herself, who before her death said the stages of grief were for the dying, not for the mourning.
What we do know about grief and mourning today is that it is cyclical. It comes in waves for the rest of your life, some more intense, others less so.
Customs dictate burial or cremation, though the methods used for each are changing fast as more eco-friendly options come to market.
Memorials themselves are also changing. You can have your loved one planted in a tree, or harken back to the mourning jewelry of the past with cremation diamonds or memorial diamonds as a way to remember your loved one and carry them with you into the next chapter of life.
Whatever you decide to do, know that you aren’t alone in this. The stages of grief can happen all at once, as each wave washes over you.
The best thing you can do now as research pends in the US is breathe –– deeply and consciously. Become aware of the present moment. And soak it in. 100% of us will grieve. 100% of us will also die.