As noted last week, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the author of On Death and Dying, was distressed by the misrepresentation of her five stages of grief in pop culture.
Kübler-Ross was partially paralyzed and suffered constant pain for the last nine years of her life due to a series of strokes. She was dependent on others for her basic needs. She was none too pleased with her fate.
She was quoted, towards the end, as saying:
My only regret is that for 40 years I spoke of a good God who helps people, who knows what you need and how all you have to do is ask for it. Well, that’s baloney. I want to tell the world that it’s a bunch of bull. Don’t believe a word of it.
When asked which of the five stages she was in, she’d reply, “Anger. I’m pissed!” Some folks claimed these comments discredited her life’s work. Besides leaning on the anti-feminist tact of trying to undermine her intellectual work with her personal life, this criticism entirely misses the point. Kübler-Ross used to joke that people loved the idea of her stages, but hated to be in any one of them.
Kübler-Ross wrote, from her deathbed, the epilogue to the 2005 book On Grief and Grieving:
I now know that the purpose of my life is more than these stages. I have been married, had kids, then grandkids, written books, and traveled. I have loved and lost, and I am so much more than five stages. And so are you.
It seems that Kübler-Ross was eager, even desperate, to initiate a richer way of talking about grief. I hope someday her legacy will align less with distorted reductions of her ideas, and more with her courage and frankness in facing what is often a chaotic emotional experience.