5 Stages of Grief - Fact or Fiction? Helpful or Damaging?

Have you heard about the 5 stages of grief?  Of course you have. Even Homer Simpson has.

Homer Simpson and grief

In an old episode Homer eats a fish that is supposedly poisonous and is told by his doctor that he’s going to die - and probably within 24 hours (actually 22 hours because the doctor kept him waiting so long).



In the scene where the local doctor gives him the grim news, Homer famously passes through these 5 stages in very quick succession.

  • He denies it.  
  • He gets angry. “Why you little..!”
  • He tries to bargain with the doctor. "You gotta get me out this! I'll make it worth your while!"
  • Depression sets in.
  • Then he calmly accepts it.  “Oh well! We all gotta go sometime.”

All within about 30 seconds.


If only grief were so neat and tidy.  Does that approximate any experience you’ve ever had with loss or pain?  I didn’t think so.  Do we really deny that our loved one has died?  Or that the divorce happened?

Where did the 5-stages of grief come from?

This was made famous by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who wrote her book, On Death and Dying, in 1969.  However, as the book’s title implies, these 5 stages of grief only apply in one particular circumstance: when we learn of our own impending death.

This notion has been incorrectly applied to every other source of grief.  When I told my previous boss that I had become a grief recovery specialist, he mentioned something about having passed through the 5 stages of grief recently.  I couldn’t bring myself to correct him.

Why should we care if we misunderstanding these stages?

Perhaps this seems like a harmless misunderstanding.

The problem is that this misunderstanding teaches an incorrect and even harmful idea.  Take the Homer Simpson story as an example.  Homer neatly passed from one stage to another in a nice orderly fashion until everything was mostly okay with him.  

Sure, he thought he was going to die, but at least he was emotionally okay with it.

It also perpetuated another false idea: “Time Heals All Wounds.”  

So, with a raise of hands, for all of you that have experienced grief (and that’s everyone), did you find yourself moving neatly passing from one stage to another and come out the other end without any emotional pain?

Anyone raising their hands?

Of course not.  That’s not how grief really works.

What is grief really like?

Instead, grief is messy.  It’s long-lasting.  It doesn’t just fade away.  Grief lingers.  Grief is sparked by special days, certain smells, a change in the weather, eating a certain food, with a dream or a memory, or almost anything.

We don’t forget the love we held for someone else.  

We don’t forget the dreams, hopes, and expectations of a wonderful future.  We don’t forget the heartache that came from our loss.

Just because 6 months, 2 years, or even 20 years have passed, we aren’t “over it.”

Grief is an expression of love.

So, what can we do about it? Is there any hope?

The good news is that even though there aren’t 5 neat, tidy, convenient stages that we pass through then forget about the pain, there is a way to find completion from grief.

Through the grief recovery method we learn the truth about grief.  We consider our lives. Then we put to use some wonderful tools to find completion from our grief.

The outcome of working through this process is the ability to remember our loved ones (or ones we hoped would have been loved ones) without the pain - but with all the joy.

If you’d like to learn more, please reach out for a free consultation.  It would be my honor to help you find true healing and completion that may have been on your heart for 2 months, 2 years, or even 20+ years.

Please share with someone else

And the next time someone brings up the 5 stages of grief, please send them to this post.  You're probably thinking about someone right now.  It may just help them, too. 

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