Kübler-Ross had a good concept. Seriously. But our culture has taken it and run so far past its expiration date.
The problem is partially linguistic; “stage” implies order and direction.
But as we’ve discussed already, grief is messy.
It also tends to avoid conforming to things like neat boxes and really predictability in general.
Instead if “stages,” I propose calling the items on Kübler-Ross’s laundry list “puddles people often blunder through while trying to find the exit from the courtyard of grief.”
Just as grief does not proceed in an orderly fashion from denial to anger and all the way to acceptance (where it, what, vanishes?), one person does not process all grief in the same way. I know I don’t. I may have tendencies, but the depth and muddiness of the puddle depend on what I am grieving and where I am in my own journey at that point in time.
So which puddle is most difficult?
When I lost my mom, it was fear, which oddly is not on the list. Probably someone will tell me fear is actually included in another puddle (and go ahead, of course), but as a child sailing along, learning the ropes and rudder, to suddenly lose the mast is a first and foremost a frightening thing.
Second hardest was probably depression, a despair that randomly shifted between foreground and background and colored most of my adolescence, even as I went through all of the usual teenage drama of school and dating and friendship and figuring out who I was and where I belonged.
When my friends lost their son, it was anger. Outrage. How dare a quirk of genetics rob them of his light, replacing decades with months in one fell swoop.
Denial is rarely a problem for me. I face facts pretty swiftly, not always with grace, sometimes with gritted teeth or deep resignation, but I face them.
And one side benefit to being an atheist?
I am rather immune to the stage of bargaining.
There’s a drought on and puddles are hard to come by. Fortunately our cats have not been successfully trained to stay off of the kitchen table.