“On Death and Dying”, the classic book by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first published in 1969, describes five stages people go through when they’re dying.
The first stage is denial. They can’t believe that they’re going to die. So they pretend that everything is normal. They’re offended when people even vaguely suggest that they might die.
The second stage is anger. When they recognize that their denial cannot continue, they get angry. Their anger may be directed toward people or circumstances that they think led to their situation. They frequently get angry at God for not preventing their impending death. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to their projected resentment and jealousy. People in this stage need understanding and patience.
The third stage is bargaining. They somehow hope that they can delay their deaths by negotiating with God. They promise God that they will change their lifestyle in return for a longer life. “Just let me live long enough to see my children graduate,” they might say. Or “If you grant me health, I’ll give all my life savings to charity.”
The fourth stage is depression. As they begin to understand the certainty of death, they may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of their time crying and grieving. It’s useless – even inconsiderate – to try to cheer them up or try to force them out of their depression, It’s best to be available in case they need help and wait patiently until they emerge from their depression themselves.
The fifth and final stage is acceptance. This stage is accompanied by peace and understanding that death is approaching. They’ve made their peace with death and don’t inwardly struggle any longer. Many people in this stage want to be alone; their wishes must be respected.
People go through similar stages when they go through traumatic experiences such as divorce, bankruptcy, or layoffs. But in these cases, the fifth stage is different. For the dying, acceptance means that they’re ready to die. For those who experience loss, acceptance means that they’re ready to live. They accept the dire situations they’re in and begin to plan a future life within their limitations. For these people, it’s necessary to not just offer comfort but also suggest ideas and means for starting a new life.
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