Facebook Connect Exploring the Diversity of Grief: A Comparative Analysis

Does Everyone Go Through the Grief Process in the Same Way?

Loss is one of the most difficult realities of human life. Everyone dreads the process of grief. Although we know it’s inevitable, no one really feels prepared. Is there a way to prepare or will everyone’s experience be different?

My father died four months after my younger brother. An aneurysm killed him, but my family believes it was the result of grief. His death was traumatic but, in retrospect, not surprising.

My brother, however, died in a car accident. Only twenty-eight, his death was sudden and shocked us all. Before my dad died, my process of grief was complex.

Having to mourn two close members of my family at the same time felt unmanageable. What made it even more complicated was the manner of their deaths and the differences in our relationships. So, while I wished there was a structure I could follow to grieve in a ‘healthy’ way, I didn’t bother searching for one.

Might a structure have helped me? There are theories about the process of grief, but in 2024, many are skeptical. Let’s take a look at the most famous theory of grief and go into why it may or may not be useful.

An analysis of grief diversity

Are The 5 Stages of Grief Real?

Swiss-American psychotherapist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross posited that there are 5 stages of grief back in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying. It became increasingly popular, to the point that American society tends to treat it as gospel.

There’s a reason for this. It feels true to people processing a loss. The experiences of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression are all expected in the wake of the death of a loved one. Most people do eventually accept that their loved one is gone and they move on.

But there are many issues with the theory. While the feelings it describes are certainly common, there is little evidence that they occur in stages. Many people describe swinging between the ‘stages’ and often experiencing more than one at the same time.

Furthermore, there is no reason to believe they are universal. Not everyone who experiences grief will go through all 5 so-called stages.

From my personal experience, I can tell you that the process is not consistent even for one person. Denial was a major force in my life for weeks after my brother died, but I didn’t experience it with my dad.

Why are the 5 Stages of Grief so Popular?

At this point you might be asking yourself how it’s possible that so many grief-stricken people over the years could accept this theory unless it’s correct. Especially since the theory describes a vivid personal experience.

For anyone who has gone through a major loss, the answer is somewhat intuitive. There is nothing more powerful than death to destroy the illusion of control in your life. When the death is sudden, the world starts to feel particularly unpredictable. It’s terrifying.

In this context, it makes sense that people going through grief grasp anything that gives them a semblance of control. I became obsessed with road safety in the wake of my brother’s death. After my dad died, I bought into various diets that came with spurious claims of decreasing the risk of sudden death.

So, a person grieving a loved one will naturally buy into a theory that makes the process more predictable. A theory that claims that once you go through all the stages, you will finally be okay. When you experience denial, anger, etc., you see it in the context of the stages.

Is the 5 Stages Theory Harmful?

The 5 stages theory gives people a semblance of control, so it might seem unhelpful to question it. What harm does it do? Is it really any different to my obsessing about wearing a seatbelt and constantly getting my tyres checked?

Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health, no unproven theory is completely harmless. By assuming that grief is a predictable process, many people sit back and try to just let it play out.

This approach can work to some extent. In the end, grief has been a part of human life for millenia and humans are resilient.

But surviving is only half the battle. I knew that I didn’t want to just be okay. I wanted to continue my relationships with my brother and dad in some way, while ensuring my life went on in a meaningful way. I could accept that I’d feel sad for a long time, but I didn’t want that to stop me from living with a full spectrum of emotions.

Processing Grief in Therapy

The theory of the 5 stages describes grief as a process that every person goes through. But it is much healthier to actively process grief. No matter how self-aware or resilient you are, certain coping mechanisms will kick in. They will protect you but they can also end up preventing you from the experiences necessary for you to move forward.

When you actively process grief, you accept that the journey is going to be personal. You accept that you do not have control over what comes next. And instead of looking for the illusion of control, you accept that you will have to continuously work to adapt.

Perhaps the best route you can take is to see a therapist. Therapy sessions can help you speak through your grief, giving you the chance to acknowledge what the person meant to you and identifying your personal coping mechanisms. This makes it possible to find healthy ways to grieve, ensuring that repressed feelings don’t overwhelm you when you’re least prepared for it.


There is no predictable process of grief. Everyone experiences life differently and, while losing a loved one is a universal experience, your relationship with the person you have lost is unique.

Understanding this gives you the opportunity to actively process your grief. During this difficult time in your life, you ensure that you learn to move forward without blocking out or fixating on the person you loved. You get to honor them as they were, keeping them alive within you in a way that is more than just a coping mechanism.