What is the Meaning? The Sixth Stage

What is the Meaning? The Sixth Stage June 3, 2020

The way things were will be changed forever. Just like our way of life changed after 9/11, the pandemic has made its imprint. We can’t yet see how things will unfold and for many that’s a source of stress. Some are mourning the loss of our past and some don’t even realize that they are grieving.

In a recent blog, I talked about the uncertainty and challenges that we are experiencing globally and how Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ original model on the Stages of Grief serves as a framework for what employees may be experiencing. Although the stages are numbered, they are not linear and people can experience different stages at different times.

These are:

  • Stage 1: Denial of the situation – can involve avoidance, confusion, shock or fear
  • Stage 2: Anger with what’s happening or those seen as responsible – can involve frustration, irritation, anxiety or insubordination
  • Stage 3: Bargaining or struggling to find the meaning of what is occurring – can involve an urgency to make a deal to resolve things, regret, or guilt
  • Stage 4: Depression – can involve feeling overwhelmed, helpless, hostility or isolated
  • Stage 5: Acceptance – can involve calmness or feeling at peace, exploring options, curiosity about what might come next or increased comfort with the unknown.

Grief expert, David Kessler worked with Kubler-Ross for over 10 years and co-authored with her the book, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. Since then he has introduced a sixth stage to the Grief Stages, finding meaning. Kessler came to this insight as he observed those people in his grief work that were finding resolution and those who could not. It really hit home when his 21 year old son died unexpectedly. Kessler learned from his own coping with grief that he was only able to move forward when he could give meaning to the experience. He emphasizes that you never stop grieving; it’s the degree and way you frame your grieving that can help you go forward in life. 

Here is the additional stage:

Stage 6: Finding Meaning – takes time and happens when you find significance or meaning for yourself that helps you move forward.

Where does this stage fit? Stage 5, acceptance, is about being open to what has happened without trying to define the unknown. Some closure comes from the peace letting go brings. In Stage 6, finding meaning, the grip of loss lessens often through the passage of time. You begin to see a path forward. Kessler emphasizes that it’s not about trying to find the good in the death or passage that has occurred, but in finding the significance for yourself in the experience. For example, instead of continuing to ask why his son had to die at 21, he now sees the blessing of having had 21 years with him. Finding meaning helps make sense out of the grief. You get unstuck because you frame the experience in a way that holds significance for you.

Grief can be individual or experienced collectively. Whether you’ve lost a loved one to the Covid virus or your business or job due to changing conditions, the sense of loss can be profound. On a collective level, many are experiencing grief due to the losses from the pandemic and the fact that things won’t be the same ever again. Most recently, the shocking killing of George Floyd has brought justified rage to the surface in many and increased hopelessness for others about how to shift prejudice in America. Most are in the middle of that grieving right now.

Kessler advises that there’s no shortcut or way around the pain. In a recent interview with Brene Brown, he states, “If you don’t feel it, you can’t heal it…The meaning is not in the death – it’s what we do after.” To find meaning out of the loss and chaos, we need to create significance for ourselves, individually and collectively.