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Coping With Grief - From Difficult Diagnoses to Medical Errors and Mistakes


Updated September 25, 2011

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Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's Five Stages of Grief, Stages 4 and 5

Link to descriptions of the first three Stages of Grief.

  • Depression: Believe it or not, getting to the point of depression may indicate that you are actually coping with your grief -- a good outcome. When you get depressed over your tragedy or loss, it shows that you are in the very earliest stage of accepting it, and that you are almost ready to deal with it. You feel the emptiness, the sadness, the fear, the regret and the uncertainty, but you are still mired in them. The emotions are still incredibly intense and extremely difficult to deal with.

    But in a way, it's good news that you are at the depression stage. The ability to experience those emotions as you deal with your depression may mean you are preparing yourself for the final stage -- acceptance. It may be difficult to believe, but that dealing is a very hopeful sign that you will, at some point, get past your grief.

  • Acceptance: First, know that acceptance in no way means that whatever tragedy or terrible event you have dealt with was OK or that it was right. It just means that you are ready to move on -- to deal with your reality. It's a disconnection process from the emotions, and development of the "it's time to get on with it" point of view. It's the place where you know you are coping.

    Acceptance is a triumph. It frees us from the shackles of anger and blame, or the constant debilitation from depression. It lets us take advantage of the silver linings, too. For those who are lucky enough to survive the grief of a medical error, it allows us to reprioritize our lives, focusing on our most important relationships and defining what truly constitutes quality of life. For those who suffer a terminal situation, it allows them to find the joy in the time they have left.

When we understand the stages of grief and the way they play out in our lives, then we understand that no matter what our emotional reactions to tragedy or loss, we are reacting in very normal ways, and that there may be still more ways we will react at some point in the future which will lead us toward better quality of life.



A sixth stage of grief is perhaps the most liberating stage, and occurs for those people who begin to take their experiences and create something positive for others from them. It's called "proactive survivorship." It was not identified by Kubler-Ross, but may be the most healing of all stages of grief.

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