Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s 1969 book On Death and Dying identified five stages of grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance (who remembers these from Psych 101?). These stages have been misunderstood to be a set order- you HAVE to go through these stages in this specific order- and once you go through them all…you’ve…finished your grief?
Kubler-Ross and her protégé David Kessler never intended for the stages to be so specific, so exact, so set in stone. There is no specific recipe for grief, as our grief is our own and is different than anyone else’s.
David Kessler’s 2019 book Finding Meaning adds a 6th stage into the mix- finding meaning. He brings in stories that he has heard over his years of grief counseling, as well as his own grief (including the recent loss of one of his sons) to demonstrate that grief is a PART of your life, not the END of your life.
It is important to not that the grief does not have to be someone dying. We all have loss and grief in our lives that are individual to us. Recently, we struggle through the pandemic. Kessler gives us a few ways to find meaning during these times:
- Speaking openly about grief
- Finding meaning in end-of-life care
- Finding meaning in rituals
- Grieving online
Kessler’s book is a great read. It is poignant and thought-provoking, without being overwhelming. One of my favorite parts was his telling of the “parable of the long spoons:”
The parable of the long spoons illustrates this point. A person is ushered through the gates of hell where he is surprised to find that they are made of finely wrought gold. They are exquisite, as is the lush green landscape that lies beyond them. He looks at his guide in disbelief. “It’s all so beautiful,” he says. “The sight of the meadows and mountains. The sounds of the birds singing in the trees and the scent of thousands of flowers. This can’t be hell.”
When the tantalizing aroma of a gourmet meal catches his attention, he enters a large dining hall. There are rows of tables laden with platters of sumptuous food, but the people seated around the tables are pale and emaciated, moaning in hunger. As he gets closer, he sees that each person is holding a spoon, but the spoon is so long he can’t get the food to his mount. Everyone is screaming and starving in agony.
Now he goes to another area where he encounters the same beauty he witnesses in hell. He sees the same scene in the dining hall with the same long spoons. But here in heaven the people seated at the tables are cheerfully talking and eating because one person is feeding someone sitting across from him.
Heaven and hell offer the same circumstances and conditions. The difference is in the way people treat each other. Choosing to be kind creates one kind of reality. Choosing to be self-centered creates another.
Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief (2019)
If you are going through grief (whether it be new or old), know someone who has/is, or just generally want to be a better person to yourself and others- I highly recommend reading this book!