by Robyn Faust Gabe © 2014
This is the last book written by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. Kübler-Ross in 1972, introduced the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She writes this book from her confined bed with the assistance of David Kessler. It is beautifully written and should be read by anyone who experiences expected loss. When I say expected loss, I am referring to loss deemed “acceptable” by society, i.e. dying in hospice in your 80s or 90s. This is not to say that anyone else would not find this book useful, I just feel this is the appropriate audience. However, if you experienced unexpected loss and find yourself every now and then having a set-back, this may be worth your time as the central focus is on the inner world of grief.
The inner world of grief is your mental state. Kübler-Ross and Kessler review the following topics: your loss, relief, emotional rest, regrets, tears, angels, dreams, hauntings, roles, the story, fault, resentment, other losses, life beliefs, isolation, secrets, punishment, control, fantasy, strength, and afterlife (2005). When talking about your loss, this is the marked mental state in your mind and how you feel this loss (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). Relief is an emotion regulated to expected loss, i.e., the loved one had cancer and the battle to survive was painful to watch. It is normal to feel relief in this situation combing with other emotions. Kübler-Ross and Kessler stated, “In order to give your emotions a rest, you have to accept things as they are” (2005, p. 36). Regrets are past tense and may be interwoven with guilt. After death they have a cruel and unusual way of consuming a person.
Tears are one of the most natural ways to release emotions. However, our society views tears as a symbol of weakness, especially for men (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). If you do not cry after loss this does not mean that those tears will never emerge, on the contrary your body stores them until one day something triggers the tears and they flow like a broken hydrant (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). In a society that likes to outsource and/or take the laissez faire approach this concept may be difficult to grasp, because tears cannot be transferred to another person. Everyone at some point needs to cry as part of their bereavement process.
After the death of a loved one, peoples inner minds can sometimes play tricks in the forms of angels, dreams, or hauntings. Angels like believing in an afterlife are personal. Some people believe in angels and insist that they see them. This is all part of a natural bereavement process and a person who sees an angel should not be criticized nor should a person who believes in the afterlife. Your dreams are an insight into human emotions. Having a dream of the deceased is normal after loss and sometimes they are reoccurring (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). “Dreams can become a meeting place between the world of the living the realm of the deceased” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 53). Dreams of the deceased may bring comfort to the individual just like the mirror of erised, did in the fictional Harry Potter series. Some people experience hauntings, which is when, one believes that they see the deceased or a vision of the loved one stuck in their head (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).
After the loss of a loved one, their roles in your life become apparent. Kübler-Ross & Kessler, noted, “Michael realized he had not only lost his wife of 22 years but he also lost the vital role she had played in their world” (2005, p. 59). It is not uncommon for a person to want to tell the story about how their loved one died especially if they are holding onto regrets or guilt. For other surviving family members this may seem unwarranted or they do not want to hear the story for the 100th time; however it is perfectly healthy and it may allow the listener to comment from a different perspective and thereby help the grieving person heal (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).
Resentment can be another dangerous emotion and pointed to the deceased or other family members. Kübler-Ross and Kessler discuss resentment towards the deceased. The topic of other losses is also discussed. This is when you do not properly grieve when someone dies and years later another person dies and you find yourself grieving for two people. As the author’s mentioned tears will always come and those bottled up will be triggered one day (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). Other losses could also occur when you realize what the deceased missed like a graduation. Additionally, other loses could be friends or activities or other external events. Other losses also carry an internal component and are joined with the roles the deceased played in your life (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).
People grieving sometimes isolate themselves from the world. This in turn may cause other people to try harder to get you out of bed, or they may become upset and forget you. Whichever happens, isolation is a lonely place. Some people may be surrounded by others and still feel isolated because people are mollycoddling them and talking at them in an effort to keep the grieving person from crying. Kübler-Ross and Kessler, stated, “Isolation is part of your grief and may serve as an important transition back into your life. Ultimately, isolation is a darkness to experiences, but not a place in which to live” (2005, p. 85).
It is not unusual to find out secrets about your deceased loved one. The secrets may come from friends or they may be found when cleaning the room. They can be frustrating because your loved one is not present to explain them, but sometimes secrets can be comforting. Whatever, they turn out to be, like dreams that are uncontrollable. It is important to not turn the secrets or any aspect of death into fantasy. Fantasy is when you pretend the person is alive and has witnessed certain events. It is similar to the “be strong” mantra where a person camouflages their grief. As Kübler-Ross and Kessler, noted, “To delay it is to live with grief sitting mildly in the background, or for some, not so mildly” (2005, p. 103).
After the lengthy discussion of inner would grief Kübler-Ross and Kessler discuss outer world grief. For example natural or manmade disasters that lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the surviving family members. “Survivors mourn losses after the disaster on multiple levels –their loved one is gone, their home, and neighborhood is disrupted, their sense of safety is violated” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 178). In many of these cases the world community is involved, but after a few weeks or even days the support fades and the survivors are left to rebuild their new normal without assistance.
Suicide is also considered an outer world grief. Eloquently stated, “Healing after a loved one’s suicide is complicated; before you work through the grief, you must first work through the guilt” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 187). Essentially, a sixth stage to the grieving process is being added to people who mourn a loved one after suicide.
The authors also discuss the topic of sudden death and the implications for the surviving family members. They state that, “Death is hardest to comprehend without any forewarning” (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005, p. 195). It was noted that implications for this particular group could be words that trigger negative thoughts, feelings, or actions (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005). It is important for the surviving person to understand what their triggers are so as to protect themselves and others (Kübler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).
The book concludes with both Kübler-Ross and Kessler writing about their personal grief stories.
Kübler-Ross, E. (1972). Therapeutic grand rounds number 36: On Death and Dying. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 221:2, pp. 174-179.
Kübler-Ross, E. & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York, NY: Scribner Books.
Rowling, J.K., (199). Harry potter and the order of the sorcerer’s stone. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.