Forget the five stages of grief

When I was a graduate student, I learned that Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief have been oversimplified and misunderstood over the years, and that many researchers and clinicians no longer consider the model to be the gold standard in terms of understanding how we deal with death. For one thing, the original research was based on people who were dying, not people who had recently lost loved ones; for another, grief is more like a roller coaster than a staircase for many folks, with complex emotions that come and go, cycling and echoing as the healing process progresses. The concept of moving seamlessly through a set of phases doesn’t match up with how most people handle loss.

Last week I came across this article from The Atlantic. It’s a nice blend of personal anecdote and factual information about grief, loss and resilience, drawing upon current research and rich storytelling. Turns out that 50-60% of people experience an almost eerie ability to bounce back from loss, with 30% struggling more long-term and 10% experiencing what we call “complicated” grief, which usually requires counseling.

I think resilience is fascinating. What makes some folks able to keep moving in the face of devastating loss, while others are crippled by sadness and sorrow? The answers are complicated. But I can’t help but think that one path to resilience and recovery is knowing when you’re in that 10% of folks who need help moving on from a major loss — and reaching out for professional guidance.