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Understanding Grief: Two Perspectives

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While the idea of grief is often associated with death of a loved one, a pet, a relationship, it can also be applicable to other transitional situation. Moving to a new city or town requires letting go of familiarity. Pursuing a new routine such as exercising may require forfeiting a sedentary lifestyle for example. Perhaps a leaving a workplace or familiar career for a new one. There are many stages that we all go through and sometimes these new experiences require letting go of something that was familiar or important to us previously.

There are two models which try an explain the psychology and emotions that are basic to the human experience during these transitional periods. Change is not a comfortable aspect for many people and it can be frightening at first. To help deal with the experiences which may be daunting, the brain has a way of adapting which is described by the following models.

The Kubler-Ross model describes the grieving process as does the Westberg model. Although there are many similarities between the two descriptions, there are arguments by psychologists and other social sciences as to which is more accurate to the human experience.

Either way, I would like to share with you a description of each. Much of the information in the section that deals with this topic was taken from a text called Social Work with Groups edited by Charles Zastrow and Sarah Hessenauer. I'll follow with some brief analysis and a short biography of both Kubler-Ross and Westberg.

Keep in mind these principles although accepted by scientists and readers worldwide are written from a Westerner's perspective and reflect the summaries and opinions of two individual writers.


The Kubler-Ross Model

This model seems to be more focused on how the terminally ill handle a diagnosis with the realization that they are about to die. However, these stages are applicable to situations in which there is a loss of sorts. Kubler-Ross' work with the terminally ill gave her the impetus for sharing the observations she made concerning those with fatalistic diagnoses.

Stage One: Denial

During this stage, a person thinks, "No, this can't be. There must be a mistake. This just isn't happening." Denial is often useful because it helps cushion the impact of the loss.

Stage Two: Rage and Anger:

In this stage, an individual reacts by responding with "this is unfairness. It isn't right." The terminally ill may be uncomfortable with the fact that they are going to die while others live. Often people will rage at God.

Stage Three: Bargaining

During this stage, a person attempts to strike bargains to regain all or part of the loss. People may begin to make deals with God for more time, even those who profess not to acknowledge a higher being.

Stage Four: Depression

During this stage, become become sad and sometimes withdrawn.

Stage Five: Acceptance

The dying person recognizes the inevitable and becomes comfortable with it.

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The Westberg Model

Westberg applies his principles about those who are suffering a loss or those who are with those who are terminal. His work with the church as well as with hospital patients inspired his holistic philosophy. He recognizes and gives attention to many powerful emotional stages that accompany any loss. As with Kubler-Ross there are many similarities and a pattern that arrives at a comfortable resolution.

Shock and Denial

Many people who are informed about a tragic loss are in such a state of shock and denial that they are practically void of feeling. When emotional pain is unusually intense, it is possible that the human emotional system temporarily "blows out."

Emotions Erupt:

The individual recognizes the impending loss and responds in a variety of emotions. Sighing, screaming, pouting, or raging are not unsual


Angry feelings are not unsual. The person can be angry at God for permitting a situation such as this or at the person who is dead for abandoning them.


The pain and grief may develop into stress related physical symptoms. Ulcers, diarrhea, rashes and the inability to sleep.


The person may panic and fear they are developing insanity. NIghtmares and unwanted emotions are not uncommon. The person may begin to act uncontrollable and neglect aspects of normal duties.


The one in grief often blames themselves or experiences feelings of guilt towards contributing to the demise.

Depression and Loneliness:

The person develops deep feelings of sadness and may socially withdraw.

Reentry Difficulties:

The grieving person makes efforts to put his or her life back together. The person may have trouble letting to of the past and continue to hang onto previous memories.


The person gradually begins to have hope and look towards the future.

Affirming Reality:

The person begins to let go and begin to get control over their life. The new life is not the same, and memories related to the loss linger, but the sense of newness is acceptable.


A Brief Analysis

Kubler-Ross' model seems to be an examination of the terminally ill while Westberg seems to be concerned with the stages exemplified by those who surround the grieving.

Kubler-Ross worked , in with the terminally ill as a caregiver and made these observations about the dying and in fact authored, On Death and Dying in 1969. Westberg was a Lutheran Minister who wrote the book, Good Grief. His practices were concerned with a holistic approach to medicine and spent much of his life as a hospital chaplain.

There are many similarities in the stages described by both authors and the set up is designed to demonstrate the psychological progression in the grieving process. Most of us are familiar with the behaviors and emotions described in both the analyses by Kubler-Ross and Westberg. It's possible that some of the steps are quickly passed or stepped over completely. Generally however, most grieving or loss acceptance does follow the steps.

Loss doesn't necessarily have to do with the loss of a loved one either. There are many times of healing we all go through. Understanding the stages might give you better insight into the healing process. Recognizing which stage you are in might be a way to understanding why you are going through the internal conflicts you are experiencing and provide you with an opportunity to anticipate what might come next.


Elijah A Alexander Jr from Washington DC on April 19, 2018:

I, personally, have never grieved the passing of another and have embraced what I would have considered a fatality, a snake bite, which didn't prove to be as I suspected. being in the unusual state of mind I don't know how others think or feel. However, I do thank yo for the information.

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