On Grief and Grieving
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

On Grief and Grieving was the last book Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote. After years of working with patients who were dying and after writing many books on her experiences, she wrote this one when she knew she was in her final days. David Kessler, a long-time friend and colleague, wrote the book with her.

They begin the book with an introduction on Anticipatory Grief, which is experienced by families where someone has a terminal illness. During this stage, family members and the ill individual may make a cycle through the five stages of grief before the person dies. They point out that this does not decrease the actual grief that occurs when the person does die.

The first chapter of On Grief and Grieving discusses the five stages of grief. The authors point out that there have been a lot of misunderstandings about the stages since the years Kubler-Ross first introduced them. They say, “[The stages] are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear time line in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order. (Kubler-Ross, 27)” They then describe the five stages, which I have described in the (link) Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief section.

The second chapter of the book focuses on the emotional or “inner world” of grief. They look at the wide-range of emotions that may be experienced including relief, regrets, guilt, resentment, isolation. In this section they also look at beliefs, fantasy, dreams, and afterlife. I found that the authors had a good way of describing experience. I felt like they knew what I felt. After spending a life-time working with people in grief, it was clear that they understood the wide variety of experiences people have in bereavement. They included frequent examples of life situations.

Chapter three looks at physical symptoms and dealing with the rest of the world while in grief. Caring for yourself, taking care of details, anniversaries and holidays, letter writing, finances, and finding closure are among some of the topics covered. One important theme that reoccurs in this chapter is that grief must be externalized. We need to find ways to get our emotions outside of our body. They also cover issues such as finances, which can become a complicated issue to deal with in the midst of grief.

Many people talk about finding closure for our grief or loss, but Kubler-Ross says, “No matter how you work at feeling your feelings fully, you never really find the closure that you hear about or see in movies. But you do find a place for loss, a way to live with it. Where grief fits in our lives is an individual thing, often based on how far we have come in integrating the loss. (254)”

There is a chapter on special circumstances, where the authors look at how grief is for children, how multiple losses affect grief, how disasters, suicide, Alzheimer’s and sudden death affect the survivors’ grief.

On Grief and Grieving ends with two chapters about the grief of each of the authors. They comment on the various losses in their lives and how they learned to feel the pain and allow grief to do its healing work. The book closes with an afterword stating that grief alone can heal. “Grief is an emotional, spiritual, and psychological journey to healing. (354)” Those who allow themselves to grieve will heal.

Read more reflections from the final chapter of On Grief and Grieving.

Read more about the Kubler-Ross stages of grief

Return to Journey through Grief homepage