Friday, July 8, 2011

A New Perspective on Grief

For decades professionals such as clergy have relied on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages when dealing with grieving people. We've learned and talked about the need for people experiencing loss to move through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are so widely known most of us can probably recite them in our sleep.

In recent years these stages have come under close examination and reconsideration. Perhaps the book that best addresses this reconsideration is Ruth Davis Konigsberg's recent book entitled The Truth About Grief (Simon and Schuster, 2011). While this is not a religious book I have found it extremely helpful in my work with bereaved and grieving families. I have found it critical in my work of helping people respond to and recover from the loss of a loved one.

A couple of important things that Konisberg addresses are the human ability to cope with loss and the time needed for this grieving to happen. All too often grieving people are confronted by people bringing unrealistic expectations to conversations and encounters that wind up being less than helpful. How many times have people questioned decisions around renewed and new relationships? How many grieving people have been told to "Get over it" and move on with their lives?

One of Konisberg's main points is that we all grieve differently. It's almost impossible to identify one particular process we all go through when experiencing loss. It's impossible to develop a timeline for when certain things are supposed to happen as we grieve. What we can do is be aware of certain needs we may have and recognize times when emotions spike and threaten to overwhelm us.

Konigsberg's realistic approach and critique is refreshing, comprehensive, and thought provoking. Reconsidering the five stages of grief is long overdue and it's critical religious professionals join in the process so that we can serve our parishioners in a more humane and sensible way.

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