My Grief Care

Misconceptions About Grief

12 Episodes

Episode 2 : There Are No Orderly and Predictable Stages In Grief


Episode Notes

Grief Has No Orderly and Predictable Stages

We explore the “5 stages of grief” and the myth that grieving is experienced in stages that are orderly and predictable.

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is famously known for her work on stages of death and dying, and we have all heard of her “5 stages of grief.” Unfortunately, this well-considered and meaningful contribution to the science around death and grief has been misunderstood and sometimes misapplied.

First, a brief explanation of the “stages of grief” that are often referred to. The development of stages was not intended for application to people grieving the loss of a loved one. Instead, the stages were part of her study of common experiences of people grappling with the prognosis of their own impending death.

So they were never designed to describe the grieving that happens after a loved one dies, rather the grieving that is done when one receives a prognosis of terminal illness and their anticipated death.

For reference sake, the stages referred to here are:

  1. Denial
  2. Bargaining
  3. Anger
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Those who have been through a grief journey previously will likely recognize that some of these stages may line up with our personal grieving experience. We may relate to all five stages listed here at some point through our grief experience. So, what is the point I’m trying to make?

A problem may come about if we, as a griever, think any of the following to be true:

  • All these stages must apply to me in my grief journey
  • I must go through all these stages to properly grieve
  • The stages are in an order I must follow or risk not healing
  • Once I have passed one step, I will not experience the related feelings again.
  • If I am not going through one of these stages, there must be something wrong with me.

These thoughts may create confusion and distraction in you as you experience the natural and unpredictable grieving process. In truth, these stages may or may not relate to your grief journey because they are not a list to be checked off or a specific series of steps to take.

Grievers generally report a largely unordered progression of experiences in their grief. Typically, they are mostly disoriented early on. And typically, consciously making healthy choices to what we call “live forward” comes much later. Living forward refers to a series of healthy choices grievers make as they are gradually readjusting to a life without their loved one.


  • Grieving a loss is different than anticipating your, or a loved one’s, death.
  • There are no orderly or predictable stages of grieving.
  • Grievers don’t have a check-off list of steps to take after which they are healed.


Ask yourself:

  • Do I have preconceived notions about what grieving should look like for me? 
  • Am I hoping to grieve as quickly, orderly and efficiently as possible?
  • Do I worry that I am grieving the wrong way?

If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may be applying expectations to an unpredictable process. And expectations of a predictable progression of grief, orderly steps of healing, or timing of healing are likely to get in the way of a process that cannot be contrived or forced.


Grieving is a natural process and part of life. It is organic, unpredictable, and always unique. Grief is best pictured as a living breathing experience or journey without a finish line, or a check-off list of prescribed steps.