Elizabeth Kubler-Ross established the five steps of grieving while working with hospitalized terminally ill patients. She studied the patients’ emotions as they faced their deaths. But through the years her steps have been used for loved ones left behind and every loss we face.
In this time of shelter-in-place we each have many losses to grieve. Interpersonal interaction, income, relationships, trust in our leaders, maybe even doubts about our higher powers.
Dr. Ross had much to grieve throughout her lifetime. She was born as the runt of identical triplets beginning her life weaker and sicker than her siblings and peers. Elizabeth’s greatest desire was to be a scientist, but her strict father did not believe in education for girls and women. After leaving home she worked her way through higher education to become a medical doctor. She married Dr. Emanuel Ross who happily accepted her ambitions. Just when Elizabeth was accepted into a pediatric residency, she realized she was pregnant and thus was denied the position. She miscarried, her first of two. She was left with neither child nor career.
Eventually she was accepted into a psychiatry residency. She and Ross had two children but divorced after twenty-one-years of marriage. She suffered a series of strokes and spent the last seven years of her life bedridden. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross had an incredible career and helped millions of people during her lifetime and beyond, especially through her internationally best-selling book, On Death and Dying (1969). She is quoted as saying “A life well grieved, is a life well lived.”
From my life-experiences I have come to believe and embrace her words. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker treating women in substance abuse recovery, I used Dr. Ross’ five steps of grieving to help my clients let go of their pasts and move forward. I’ve taught the grieving process to my family, my friends, and anyone who will listen because I know its worth. Usually we experience grief every day, but our psyche goes through the process within seconds, so we don’t notice. What’s important is that when we’re facing loss, we recognize grief, work through it, and come out on the other side with a healthy emotional outlook.
Here’s how it works: Remember when you were able to leave home to keep an important appointment and you couldn’t find your car keys?
- Denial – fuzzy thinking “I can’t believe I can’t find my keys.”
- Anger – body muscles tight “Darn it, where are they? Did someone move them?”
- Depression – sagging shoulders “What am I going to do now? I need to go.”
- Bargaining – dithering “If I had put the keys in their usual spot, I wouldn’t be in this situation.”
- Acceptance – deep breathe, ready to move “Oh, well, it is what it is. I’ll call a friend, Uber, cab, for a ride.”
Everyone grieves differently, there is no specific timing for each step, and we can bounce back and forth through the steps. Remember these points:
- Intensity of emotions can vary
- Anger can be directed at ourselves, others, animals, things, even God
- However you grieve, its normal
- You are not crazy
Your psyche will grieve whether you want it to or not, crying can be spontaneous no matter where you are or what you’re doing. But there is a way to help the process along. Be aware of your feelings. Release your feelings by accepting them and letting them pass through your body. It will only take seconds and the more you release them the faster you’ll heal. If you suppress your emotions, they’ll eventually burst out when you’re not expecting them.
The gift of the final acceptance is that you will be able to move on with your life. You’ll be able to set goals from the perspective of your new circumstances.
We’re all anxious and grieving our current situation. We’ll all go through the grieving process as we wait this out. Everyone of every age. Be patient with yourself and others, especially children.
Please take time each day to be aware of your losses (write them down, journal about them, talk with a trusted confidant). Determine which step(s) you’re in for each, then let those emotions move through your body. End with deep relaxing breaths and thoughts of gratitude for what you have.
We’ll get through this together and we’ll all know that a life well grieved, is a life well lived.