“On Grief and Grieving” by Kübler-Ross and Kessler

On Grief and Grieving (256 pages, 2005) by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, is a beautiful book on various facets of the grieving process. Written in a lucid informal style, the book is full of insights, examples and case studies. Each section effuses empathy. Gladly, the book stays away from quantification, reductionism and preponderance of statistics which permeate modern psychological texts. The uniqueness of individual grief journeys is emphasized — loss is inevitable and grief heals but everybody heals in their own way. It is important to grieve, to get in touch with one's pain and not to postpone.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926 -- 2004) was a Swiss psychiatrist who cared for and studied the dying for over forty years. Her book "On Death and Dying" (1969) popularized her five-stage model of loss which is now common knowledge among psychologists and lay persons. "On Grief and Grieving" was the last book by Kübler-Ross, in collaboration with David Kessler, a grief counselor.

Chapter by Chapter

With the exception of the first chapter, you may read the sections of the entire book in any order without loss of continuity. Each section addresses a unique facet of the grieving process. The book begins with a short Introduction that describes 'anticipatory grief', which has a character of its own.

Chapter 1 (The Five Stages of Grief) touches upon the five-stage model of loss: shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These five stages are customarily described in almost all contemporary writings on grief and loss.

Chapter 2 (The Inner World of Grief) covers emotional and psychological aspects of grieving. It has sections on Relief, Emotional Rest, Regrets, Tears, Angels, Dreams, Hauntings, Roles, The Story, Fault, Resentment, Other Losses, Life Beliefs, Isolation, Secrets, Punishment, Control, Fantasy, Strength and Afterlife. This chapter is quite illuminating as it offers a panoramic view of emotions that different people experience! Each section is peppered with examples and personal stories. The themes of Life Beliefs and Afterlife are fully developed in a short book On Life After Death (85 pages, 2008) by Kübler-Ross.

Chapter 3 (The Outer World of Grief) is devoted to practical affairs like Anniversaries, Sex, Body and Health, Clothes and Possessions, Holidays, Letter Writing, Finances, Age and Closure. Taking care of oneself is emphasized. Writing letters to the deceased is said to be therapeutic. Sexual feelings in men immediately after experiencing loss are explained as expression of loneliness and just wanting to be held by their partner. The last sentence of the chapter: "You don't ever bring the grief over a loved one to a close."

Chapter 4 (Specific Circumstances) sheds light on Multiple Losses, Disasters, Suicides, Alzheimer's and Sudden Death. There is a section on Children, who are mostly left out of the grieving process by elders even though they feel pain as deeply as adults.

Chapter 5 (The Changing Face of Grief) is short. It presents a sad tale of depraved modern life where one dies an institutional death instead of dying in the midst of loved ones, at home.

Who should read this book? Anybody who has lost someone, or shall lose someone in the future. In other words, everybody. For somebody in grief, the book shall provide consolation that many others feel exactly the way you feel.

The book does not address the issue of how friends and family may help constructively. Nor does the book tell us how grief counselors or bereavement groups operate.

Additional Resources

In USA, individuals who have suffered similar losses come together through books, bereavement groups and counselors, many of whom specialize in the kind of loss that you are facing.

Movies: Some grief counselors recommend watching movies to help you move through the grieving process. Two lists: by Maria Grace and by Marty Tousely.

Relationship Breakups: These are as devastating as the death of a loved one. Coping with a Divorce or Relationship Breakup is a nice article. Grieving Divorce succinctly describes challenges faced in grieving a divorce amid turmoil and without traditions to support and direct grief and healing.

Loss of a Child: The intensity of pain at losing one's child exceeds all other bereavements. The top-10 results in Google query: grieving the loss of a child paint the big picture in great detail. Organizations like Compassionate Friends and Bereaved Parents of USA offer support (click on "Resources" at these websites).

Children: Resources for Kids who have lost someone. "On Grief and Grieving" emphasizes the significance of talking to young children and answering all their questions related to the loss. An article on Divorce and How It Affects a Child.

Youtube Videos


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.