Book Review: On Grief and Grieving

Jun 14, 2015 | 1 comment

On Grief and Grieving coverOn Grief & Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler is a classic text which stands the test of time. First published in 2005, it has been re-released ten years later with a foreword by Maria Shriver – someone well acquainted with grief and loss.

Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief was initially five stages of attitudes the dying experienced before death. Those now well-known stages, first spelled out in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, are (all together now) Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

The Stages were never meant to be regarded as a set-in-stone process – not everyone experiences every stage, and any one of the stages could be experienced in any order.

As Kübler-Ross and Kessler write, “The stages have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the last few decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages.”

In On Grief & Grieving, Kübler-Ross and Kessler apply these stages to explain the inner and outer worlds of grief – how our emotions affect us within our minds, and how grief affects our relationships with others.

As Maria Shriver wrote in the Foreword, “We are a grief-illiterate nation… Kübler-Ross taught us that it is okay to be vulnerable. And in this book, she and David Kessler gave us a framework for how to do it, a road map to survive grief.”

The book explains grief phenomena in easy-to-understand terms. Here’s how the authors describe the emotional world mourners face:

“We are not accustomed to the emotional upheaval that accompanies a loss. People experience a wide range of emotions after a loss, from not caring to being on edge to feeling angry or sad about everything. We can go from feeling okay to feeling devastated in a minute without warning. We can have mood swings that are hard for anyone around us to comprehend, because even we don’t understand them. One minute we are okay. The next we’re in tears. This is how grief works.”

The Inner World of Grief section covers how loss affects people. It includes feelings of relief, resentment and regrets, experiencing dreams and supernatural connections to the departed, and the importance of telling and retelling the story of the loss. About regrets, the authors write:

“The illusion of infinite time clouds our understanding of the preciousness of one another. That value grows in death as we realize all that was lost. At the funeral, your husband’s childhood friend speaks of their years together as kids, and you think, ‘I always meant to ask what it was like growing up in Chicago.’ You loved her meat loaf, but what was the recipe? Maybe you heard a story your loved one told over and over again at countless dinners and parties, and now you realize you have questions about that story but no one is here to answer them. Instead of answers, you are left with regrets.”

The Outer World of Grief section provides insights on physical responses and interpersonal interactions impacted by grieving. They explain how mourners react to anniversaries and holidays, may or may not take care of their own health, and deal with the clothing and possessions of the deceased, among other practical matters.

The authors also deftly explore how grief can vary depending on specific circumstances of death, such as multiple losses, disasters, suicide, Alzheimer’s Disease, sudden death and the death of children.

On Grief & Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss (Scribner, 272 pages) is an invaluable tool for funeral aftercare programs and to help new funeral directors understand the grief reactions they see in their work. This new edition includes a reading group guide with topics and questions for discussion and a listing of online resources. Every funeral director and grief counselor needs to have a copy of this book in their resource library.

Co-author David Kessler offers free grief resources at his website,

Gail Rubin, CT, is a death educator Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement. She’s a speaker who uses humor and funny films to attract people to discuss mortality, end-of-life, business communications, estate and funeral planning issues. Author of the award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, she co-authored the new free eBook, Celebrating Life: How to Create Meaningful Memorial Services, with Templates and Tips. Her website is

A Good Goodbye