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Grief Theories: What do you mean we don’t follow stages of grief anymore?…

by Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC


How do we make sense of the nature of grief and our reactions to it?  When Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed her work on stages of grief, her research was based on studying the dying. Along the way, some who were seeking ways to understand bereavement, began applying these stages to the bereavement process, which was never Kubler-Ross’ intent.  Yet we learn from those who came before us, trying to move forward in our thinking.


The Many Different Grief Theories

Since then, other theories on grief have been developed, helping us further understand that mourning is a dynamic process, as we grieve a loss.  If Mourning is the process which occurs after a loss, by which the bereaved come to terms with the loss, then Grief is a person’s reactions to bereavement which includes thoughts, feelings, and behaviors experienced after the loss, that change over time. Sometimes too, the terms are blurred and the distinction no longer quite makes sense.


If grief is not a stage or linear process, what does a map of grief look like?  J. William Worden, a clinical psychologist (1982)in his book offers the Four Tasks of Mourning:  Task I:  To Accept the Reality of the Loss, Task II:   To Process the Pain of Grief, Task III:  To Adjust to a World Without the Deceased, Task IV:  To Find a Way to Remember the Deceased While Embarking on the Rest of One’s Journey Through Life. Tasks can be revisited and reworked over time.  Not every task presents the same obstacles to the mourner.


The Six R’s and Contemporary Grief Theories

Therese Rando, clinical psychologist, whose practice and research has focused on bereavement, anticipatory grief and traumatic loss, offers the Six “R” Model of activities or processes that are important to adapting to a loss(1984, 1993).  Recognizing the Loss, Reacting to the Separation, Remembering and reexperiencing the deceased, Relinquishing attachments and assumptions, Readjusting to a new world, Reinvesting in new activities and new relationships


More contemporary grief theories include:  Continuing Bonds, (Klass, Silverman, and Nickman, 1996), which says the bereaved maintain the presence of an ongoing inner relationship with the deceased person.  The Dual Process Model of Grief(Strobe & Schut 1999) proposes that we oscillate back and forth between what we have lost and reorienting to a world that is forever changed by our loved one’s death.  Meaning Reconstruction (Attig, 2001; Neimeyer, 2001) tells us that we seek meaning from the experience of separation, changes in our identity, and the altered sense of belonging in the family and community.  There are a few other theories to be discussed at a future date.


Finding Your Grief Theory

Let us acknowledge that there are many theories on grief, each trying to reflect the dynamic and reality of loss.  Some theories may resonate with you, others may not.  These theories are intended to help us to understand what grief looks and feels like, more often like a zig zag pattern, not a straight line.  We move with the pain of the loss, adapting and integrating that loss in our lives.  Sometimes we may feel “stuck” in adapting, and then may want to seek professional counseling.  Recognize too, that there are usually limitations in trying to describe grieving and mourning across the range of human conditions, time periods, cultures and individual circumstances.  Yet in the end, it can help put words and images to our own experience of grief.


For more helpful grief resources, visit our blog. 



Servaty-Seib, Heather and Stanton Chapple, Helen, Editors, Handbook of Thanatology, 3rd Edition, Association for Death Education and Counseling ADEC, 2021.

Worden,  J. William,  Tasks of Mourning, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, Fifth Ed, Springer Publishing Company, LLC, New York, NY, 2018.     Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning

Rando’s Six R Process of Mourning

A Grief Concept You Should Care About: Continuing Bonds  Understanding Your Grief (The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement)


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