This is a 5 minute read.
I was told that I was in shock, and it’s ok for me to grieve. WTF?
Let me explain something:
When you tell someone that it’s ok that they go through the stages of grief and that ‘It’s ok you’re in shock, and it’s ok to feel (insert unhelpful word here) Do you actually know what you might be doing to them?
What do people widely associate the ‘’stages of grief’ with? … let me give you a clue. It starts with D and ends in eath. So the second you tell them it’s ok for them to grieve, you may UNCONSCIOUSLY be sending them into a spiral downwards as they associate the ‘stages of grief’ with the D word.
I didn’t feel these stages at all. And the feelings I did have were in no particular order and were nowhere near as intense as people expected them to be.
I can count on two hands and two feet the number of people who told me I was in shock.
Yes, cancer was a surprise, but I certainly wasn’t feeling, shocked, in denial and all the other hoopla that goes with it. It prompted me to research deeper into the stages of grief.
In 1969, Dr Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote ‘On Death and Dying.’ It included descriptions of exchanges between Dr Kübler-Ross and her patients about reactions to impending death. What is often overlooked when a misinformed someone suggests a person needs to grieve is that the book’s full title is; ‘On Death and Dying – What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy and their families.’ There has been an inordinate amount of criticism among academic researchers directed towards the work because of the myth that this book has become a textbook on how to manage dying patients.
First, it was never a study of grief and bereavement
Secondly, the so call ‘stage theory’ is a set of categories that explains these experiences more simply. A careful reader would notice the repeat warnings by Kübler-Ross that these ‘stages’ overlap, occur together, or even that some reactions are missed altogether. Their tentative nature is the only visual representation of these ideas in the book
Thirdly, many of the ‘stages’ have been subsequently simplified and used beyond recognition.
Fourthly, the book has been assumed a study. It is not. Participants were asked to talk about their experience so that health professionals could understand their needs.
The central message of the book is the importance of listening to what the dying have to tell us about their needs.
Kübler-Ross never intended for this theory to be misused and referenced as a way to deal with grief and overwhelm associated with a favorable prognosis. She never intended for it to be adapted by people who were looking for a process to grieve a breakup or a divorce or any other grief process. It was never intended for people who were introduced to mortality as a model of learning and behavior.
However, it is an excellent model and has been adapted by professionals to manage change management, relationships and anyone who is dealing with a less serious trauma.
The significant difference is – when it is used for people diagnosed with cancer (a potentially life-threatening illness) the unconscious mind may move toward the actual intention of the book – Dealing with Death and Dying.
How does it happen?
The model is widely known enough that if you say ‘Stages of Grief’ – people will be able to reel off, at least, one of the stages.
People who know a little more about it will automatically go through the stages in their head and possibly associate it with dying because grief is often associated with dying.
All I am saying is this when people talk about the ‘Stages of Grief,’ It would be more helpful if there were a thorough explanation of what it is about rather than trivialising it. And do we need to go down that path when at diagnosis and during treatment it isn’t relevant for some of us?
The stages of grief is a brilliant tool, and I believe misused way too much at the beginning of a cancer diagnosis.
Perhaps, you would like to try something a little more warm and manageable.