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Learn about grief beyond the famous ‘five stages’


Many people are familiar with the five stages of grief defined by the late Elisabeth Kübler–Ross in her groundbreaking book about death.

But there’s more to know about grief and dying than those five stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

That’s why Mary Washington Hospice is offering a seminar called “Beyond Kübler–Ross: New Perspectives on Death, Dying and Grief” on Sept. 14.

The program, which includes a video and a discussion by a panel of experts, is open to everyone. But it’s especially geared toward helping professionals—from counselors to clergy to physicians and funeral directors—understand evolving theories about grief.

The scientific community knows a lot more about death, dying and grief than it did in 1969, when Kübler–Ross’ book “On Death and Dying” was published, said Gloria Lloyd, bereavement community education coordinator for Mary Washington Hospice.

But since the book is still being used as the definitive text on grief even in medical schools, many people don’t know about advancements.

Lloyd said the seminar will teach people to be more open about the different ways people process grief, and to understand that they shouldn’t force specific stages of grief on anyone.

As the video participants will watch points out, you wouldn’t treat cancer based on what you knew in 1969, so you shouldn’t treat grief based only on a book from 1969, Lloyd said.

Lloyd said the newer approach to helping grieving people is kinder and more flexible, and doesn’t force grievers into stages they are not experiencing.

“There’s not a blueprint for it,” Lloyd said of grief.

Lloyd said she spent a week with Kübler–Ross in the 1980s and during that time, there was no mention of specific stages.

“She was a very intuitive person,” Lloyd said of Kübler–Ross. “She helped us understand that we had to understand ourselves better before helping others.”

Lloyd said Kübler–Ross would be horrified to know her stages are now being used as a definitive prescription, putting time limits of grief.

“That’s not what she wanted,” she said.

Lloyd said that today, people are encouraged not to let go of the person who has died but instead to continue the bond by keeping stories about the person alive.

“The bond is a healthy response,” she said.

Lloyd employs these more recent views on grief to her work at hospice.

“In a large part, it is just being aware and letting the person grieving teach me and not prescribing” a specific way of grieving, she said.

She said she hopes the seminar will help local residents gain more knowledge of grief.

“If everyone who comes tells five more people to be kinder and gentler and not push, my vision is as a community, we will be healthier,” she said.

Local professionals who will serve on the panel at the seminar include:

  • Dr. Patrick McManus, medical director of Mary Washington Hospice.
  • Social worker Judy Burkle, an end-of-life specialist.
  • Christi Carver, a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatric nursing.
  • Larry Austin, director of pastoral care for Mary Washington Healthcare.
  • Jessica Dederer, the manager of Mary Washington Hospice, will moderate the discussion.

Carver said Kübler–Ross informed her thinking on death and dying, but the latest research challenges some of the ideas that have long been accepted as facts.

“We always need to be willing to learn and to grow,” she said. “I imagine Kübler–Ross would be on board with that, too.”

Carver said the seminar will be helpful to her professionally.

“I am always looking for ways to stay current in my profession, and the seminar was an opportunity to study the latest research on grief so I could use it in my practice and in my life,” Carver said.

Austin, the pastoral care director, said that it’s important to understand what grief is like so when you’re around someone who’s mourning, you know “that they’re not going crazy.”

The seminar also should help people learn about the ways people from different backgrounds grieve.

“Can you think of any culture that doesn’t deal with grief?” he said.

People bring their own backgrounds and belief systems into the grief process.

“People need to know how to understand that,” Austin said.


What: Beyond Kübler–Ross: New Perspectives in Death, Dying and Grief

When: Sept. 14, 8 a.m. to noon

Where: John F. Fick Conference Center, in the Carl D. Silver Health Center, at 1301 Sam Perry Blvd.

Registration: To register, call 540/741-1404 or 800/722-2788.

Cost: The seminar is free except for those who would like to receive continuing education credits for attending. That fee is $30.

Learn more: Visit and click on “community programs.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976