Since the late 1960s, starting with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a few pioneering Western psychologists and sociologists began to make a science of studying the psychology of humans during bereavement. These investigating professionals observed that there are regular, predictable phases that all normal people will pass through during intense mourning, to get through their grief. This is nature’s way of helping us to heal psychologically from such an emotional blow. And the process must run its slow course to be effective. There can be no rushing this. But understanding the anticipated stages of bereavement will help a great deal.
These phases or stages were then identified, listed, and studied intensively. It was quickly realized that they are universal to all humans raised in Western culture. After suffering the death of a beloved one, this process is a normal and predictable healing reaction of the mind, and it should not be interfered with. Mourners are counseled to face their grief and cope with it, however agonizing or debilitating it may be. One has to go through the pain to get over it. Because it is a normal response to avoid grief and suffering, this kind of psychological healing is especially difficult and requires time. Making a recovery that results in emotional stability is a gradual process and needs patience, time, and many tears.
People who resist or even suppress their transition through these stages always create more complex problems that will continue to distress them. It was learned that the only way to remedy the situation is to address the unresolved problems.
This can be accomplished, even after many years of preventable suffering. There is always hope.
These stages are characteristic and transitional, and they may manifest themselves simultaneously or in a different sequence than listed here. Although they usually do unfold in the order shown in the next chapter, each will appear in due course and then fade away, if resolved. There is nothing to worry about if you perceive a shifting in the sequence. Nature has provided us with a natural beginning, middle, and end to all of this. Going with the painful flow will heal you, and get you through it.
The bereavement stages listed by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross were formulated to deal with human death. They have been modified and amended here to be specific to our experience in losing a pet. It is important to note that this new arrangement of the stages has become universally accepted as the benchmark and standard in the study of pet bereavement. This will be examined in detail in the next six chapters. But the reader should be aware that a few variations of the names and sequences for these stages have been suggested by some writers. And there will always be some minor controversy about this.
Some counsellors prefer naming grief as an additional stage. This is not used here because it is believed that the term is too general. Grieving is so personal that it cannot be clearly defined without becoming vague or generalized. Grief can be seen as our natural, overall emotional response while progressing through all phases of bereavement. Since all of us have such unique reactions and responses to death, it is necessary to examine each of these stages in some detail.