- 1) Denial:
- Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of situations and individuals that will be left behind after death.
- Example – “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
- 2) Anger:
- Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.
- Example – “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”
- 3) Bargaining:
- The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the person is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time…”
- Example – “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”; “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”
- 4) Depression:
- During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect themself from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer an individual up that is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.
- Example – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die . . . What’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
- 5) Acceptance:
- This final stage comes with peace and understanding of the death that is approaching. Generally, the person in the fifth stage will want to be left alone. Additionally, feelings and physical pain may be non-existent. This stage has also been described as the end of the dying struggle.
- Example – “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
Kübler-Ross originally applied these stages to people suffering from terminal illness, and later to any form of catastrophic personal loss (job, income, freedom). This may also include significant life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, drug addiction, or an infertility diagnosis.
Kübler-Ross also claimed these steps do not necessarily come in the order noted above, nor are all steps experienced by all patients, though she stated a person will always experience at least two. Often, people will experience several stages in a “roller coaster” effect – switching between two or more stages, returning to one or more several times before working through it. Significantly, people experiencing the stages should not force the process. The grief process is highly personal and should not be rushed, nor lengthened, on the basis of an individual’s imposed time frame or opinion. One should merely be aware that the stages will be worked through and the ultimate stage of “Acceptance” will be reached. However, there are individuals that struggle with death until the end. Some psychologists believe that the harder a person fights death, they are more likely to stay in the denial stage. If this is the case, it is possible the ill person will have more difficulty dying in a dignified way.