Five Stages of Grief

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There are five stages of grief. Try not to go through them all at once.

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a famed Swiss psychiatrist, noticed that many of her patients who had recently suffered a loss of some sort go through as many as five stages of grief. This became well-known in pop culture as the Kübler-Ross model, and it contains the following stages:

  1. Denial: This isn't happening; this is nothing. I'll just pretend it isn't there and it'll go away.
  2. Anger: This isn't right! I DON'T DESERVE THIS!
  3. Bargaining: God, if you're up there, I promise to do everything I can to make this world better for the rest of my life.
  4. Depression: (Ultra-depressed crying).
  5. Acceptance: Well, everybody dies someday. I guess the only way to be able to live while I'm here is to accept it.

(Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse notes that you can remember the stages with the handy mnemonic "Drink Alcohol Before Doing Anal".)

Of course, Hollywood being what it is, when it gives this model of grief, all five stages of grief are displayed, always in this order, and if Played for Laughs all within ten seconds of each other. This despite the fact that Kübler-Ross herself admitted that not all patients went through all five stages, and not all of them went through them in that order. (This raises the question, given by one critic, of how exactly they can be called stages if they're not universal. But that's a discussion for somewhere else.) In real life, in the words of Kübler-Ross herself, "our grief is as individual as our lives."

Also, these stages tend to apply to all grieving characters, although her work was with those actually dying and not, say, the bereaved. See also Stages of Monster Grief, where formerly human characters adapt to their new condition.

Examples of Five Stages of Grief include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

Denial: Implied by how the Elric brothers are convinced their mother will not be dead for long.
Anger: Edward has this reaction at her funeral, but is not angry at his mother- he's angry at his father (who he blames for his mother's death).
Bargaining: The attempt to bring their mother Back from the Dead.
Despair: After their effort fails with horrible results, the Elric brothers become very depressed.
Acceptance: They accept the fact that dead people cannot come back to life, and focus their efforts on restoring their bodies.

  • Played for Laughs in K-On!, when Mio goes through these stages as she is forced to play Romeo for the school festival.
  • Momo Hinamori from Bleach goes hard through the first stage, Denial, after Aizen stabs her to near death and betrays the Soul Society, which completely shatters the poor girl's view of her whole world.
  • In Digimon Tamers Juri/Jeri Katou goes through this after her digimon partner was impaled and absorbed/eaten in front of her, which in turn released repressed memories of her mother's death which she took a realistic amount of time to go through (a few weeks) especially considering that she was being continuously Mind Raped at the time.
  • Much like the Neon Genesis Evangelion example above, it can be said that the three main characters of Berserk all represent some stage of grief and how they deal with it, since they've all been through a ridiculous Trauma Conga Line for us to deduce this:

Guts: Anger, Denial, Depression
Griffith: Depression, Bargaining
Casca: Denial

    • None of them have quite grappled with acceptance yet.


Card Games[edit | hide]

  • This happens to many Poker players after a bad beat, and often in the quite fast version, despite being Serious Business:
  1. NOOOOOOOOOOOO! He beat my pocket aces with pocket kings? (Or pocket queens, or pocket deuces, or even seven-two off...)
  2. You goddamn donk! I'll kill you, and everyone who looks like you!
  3. I will complain to the poker room. This game was rigged, there's no way this was legit!
  4. Nah, they'll never believe me. There's nothing I can do. I'm such a loser.
  5. Oh well, that's poker.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Fallen Son, a 5-issue limited series, dealt with the death of Captain America (comics) by going through each of the five stages with a different Marvel character. Wolverine experiences denial; the Avengers go through anger; Hawkeye attempts to bargain Cap back; Spider-Man falls into despair, and Iron Man leads all of the Marvel superheroes in accepting that he's really dead.
  • Issues 2-6 of the Knights of the Old Republic comics go through the stages in order.
  • The Joker also goes through the stages in a matter of seconds in the miniseries The Last Laugh, after he becomes convinced he has a fatal tumor.
  • A side-story in Spider-Man (Brand New Day era) dealt with Flash Thompson coping with the loss of his legs. When he becomes depressed, he goes through the stages in the opposite of the conventional order. He eventually arrives at what Peter terms "stage 0: grace".
  • In a Donald Duck-story where Scrooge loses all his money in a tornado, he starts going through this, with the nephews lamp-shading: 'Now he's going through the five stages of loss'. Scrooge goes through denial, (no, the money can't be gone!) anger, (*cursing the tornado*) bargaining, (please, please give me my money back!) despair (*crying*), but just as the nephews says that the final stage is acceptance, Scrooge goes straight back denial, that the money is not lost forever, and that he will find them again. He was right. The story, however, was so full of unlikely events Don Rosa decided to disregard it while working on The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
  • In All Fall Down, it's the central theme of the book.


Fan Fiction[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded in the movie All That Jazz. As Roy Scheider's character experiences the stages while recovering from a heart attack, he points out that it sounds like the name of a Jewish law firm: "Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Despair and Acceptance, how can I direct your call?"
    • This is also worked into a Shout-Out to Bob Fosse's previous film Lenny, as Scheider (like Fosse) is the director of a movie about a Lenny Bruce-like comic who acts out the five stages.
  • In The Rundown, Beck (The Rock) mentions something similar to the five stages.

Beck: You're just like every other jackass that I've taken down. First they try to run, then they try to fight, then they try to negotiate. And when that doesn't work, you're gonna do what all the others do when they realize it's over.
Travis: Oh, yeah? What's that?
Beck: You're gonna get down on your hands and knees and you're gonna beg me for a break.

  • Going blind, Shinnojo in Love and Honor goes through Denial, then Anger and Despair at once and then manages Acceptance. He leaves out Bargaining though, perhaps it's below a Samurai to chaffer.
  • Groundhog Day has the main character going through precisely these stages as he learns how to deal with the eponymous day. First he can't believe it (denial), then he does all sorts of anti-social things like over-eating, robbing the armored car, sleeping with all of the attractive women in town, etc (anger), then he tries to figure out what he can do (bargaining), then he just gives up and falls back into bed and/or tries to kill himself (despair), until finally he accepts the situation and becomes a better person.
  • Referenced (as "seven stages of grief") in Look Both Ways by Meryl, who asks Nick, "What's the point in knowing where you're up to if you've still got to go through it anyway?"


Live Action Television[edit | hide]

  • This Loading Ready Run skit, where, after learning some unfortunate news from his doctor, one of the cast goes through the five stages, interspersed with random other stages such as "Angry Denial" and "Kumquat Love"
  • The sixth-season premiere of Frasier sees him going through the stages after being fired from his famed radio job, each one indicated by the show's signature title cards. The episode ends with Niles saying he thinks his divorce is going to go smoothly. Followed by the title card Denial.
  • The 5th-season Scrubs episode "My Five Stages" has J.D. and Dr. Cox going through the stages over the death of Mrs. Wilk.
  • Summer in The OC at the beginning of the fourth season.
  • In a Monk episode, Monk rapidly goes through the stages of grief when his psychiatrist retires. And thanks to his OCD, he goes through them over and over again throughout the episode.
  • In Dead Like Me, George narrates as she goes through the stages after her own death.
  • In an episode of Popular, April Tuna is presumed dead after a car accident. That episode is broken into segments each named after the five stages. However, in the end of "Denial" April shows up at her own memorial service very much alive. Turns out her car was stolen by a junkie who proceeded to crash it. The "Acceptance" segment ends up being the traditional happy ending.
  • In one episode House, being the Jerkass that he is, criticises and all but mocks Cameron for becoming overly emotionally invested in a terminally ill patient, writing the five stages on his whiteboard and crossing them off one by one.
  • Stephen Colbert pulled out a Kübler-Ross pamphlet while trying to cope with the end of the 2008 Democratic primary season. "Stage one, Denial, I've never had that... Stage two, Anger, THERE you go!", screwed up the pamphlet and threw it away. "I am BACK!"
  • Parodied in an episode of Wings. When Lowell refuses to believe that his friend Weeb is dead, Brian notes that he's in denial and lists the rest of the stages he'll go through. Lowell then comes back into the room and expresses each stage one after another, in order, in the space of a few seconds.

Lowell: I'M ANGRY AS HELL AT WEEB FOR DYING! But I'd trade anything to get him back. [crying] Oh, what's the use! It's hopeless! He's gone! [recovering] But what are you gonna do? Life goes on.

  • Star Trek: Voyager ("Imperfection"). Seven of Nine goes through the stages when she realises a Borg implant in her head is fatally malfunctioning and can't be replaced.

Icheb: Why is she angry at me?
EMH: She's not angry at you. She's just...angry.

  • Dropped at the end of the second part of the Grey's Anatomy sixth season premiere, ostensibly for coming to terms with George's death, but the stages are read off as Chief Webber addresses the staff that Seattle Grace would be merging with rival hospital Mercy West.
  • In the Doctor Who story The End of Time, when Wilf knocks four times to be released from the radiation chamber, the Doctor, realizing that he would have to absorb the radiation to free Wilf, goes through the Five Stages within twenty seconds, before making his Heroic Sacrifice to save Wilf.
    • He also seems to have gone through all of the stages at least once over the course of the specials since his death was prophesied in "Planet of the Dead".
    • In "The Family of Blood", John Smith learns that his life is a lie and must give up everything to become the Doctor again. Also a Tear Jerker.
  • On Law and Order, after Mike Logan's partner is murdered, his grief counseller Olivet tells him that he's going through the stages.
  • A Flash Back sequence on Thirty Rock showed how Jack went through the five stages in couple seconds after he learned of the death of his mentor Don Geiss, except "Acceptance" was replaced with "Shoving Down Emotions and Proceeding as if Everything's Fine."
  • The two-hour (or two-part, depending) 6th season premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is named after stage 3, a direct reference to dealing with Buffy's death in the previous season finale. Specifically, the gang offering the gods a dangerous, painful, Black Magic sacrifice in exchange for Buffy's life.
    • Played for Laughs in "Intervention" when the Scoobies believe Buffy is dealing with her grief over her mother's death by boinking evil vampire Spike; actually he was screwing a Sex Bot that Spike has had built to resemble Buffy.

Anya: We're kind of thrown by the you having sex with Spike.
Buffy: The ... who whating how with huh?
Anya: Okay, that's denial. That usually comes before anger.
Buffy: I am not having sex with Spike!
Anya: Anger.

  • In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Moze (whose backpack - with her diary inside - went missing) goes through these very quickly, with 'anger' coming up. A lot.
    • And in this case, it's just four stages (he skips the bargaining part).
  • An interesting twist in Blackadder, in which a season 3 episode features suicide pills, which stages are depression, loss of temper, forgetfulness and happiness, in that order. Oh, and before you die you jump in a corner.
  • In the That '70s Show episode "Grandma's Dead", when Red's mother dies, Kitty tells him about the five stages. Red says that he's got two stages: anger and drinking.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel I, Q, the entire universe goes through these stages just prior to the supposed "Big Crunch". Subverted in that Q's unwillingness to accept the end of the universe convinces its creator to keep it going.
    • Also subverted because None of it really happened; the realms representing each stage that the main characters pass through were set up by the Continuum to keep Q occupied, so he wouldn't try to stop it.
  • Protagonist Charlie Asher in the novel A Dirty Job reads about the Kübler-Ross model and comments that he has gone through all the stages in the wake of his wife's death - and the revelation that he is Death.
  • Harry Potter goes through the Five Stages of Grief after Sirius dies at the end of Book Five.
    • However, he's stuck in Denial and Anger for much of Book Seven.


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Slightly averted in Doonesbury when B.D. lost his leg in Iraq and his doctor was explaining the five steps to his wife.

Doctor: There are generally five stages. The first is denial...
B.D.: Son of a Bitch!
Doctor: Some skip straight to anger...

  • Played with in Dilbert strip, "The Seven Stages of a Performance Review".
    • In another strip, Dogbert is shown responding to Dilbert's death, going through denial, then anger, and finally thrift: "No coffin, just wrap the corpse in newspaper. He would have wanted it that way."
  • When Charles Schulz died, Heart of the City's title character displayed Shock, Denial, Anger, and Acceptance—with her responses for each being quotes from things Peanuts characters were well-known for saying, starting with "Aaughh!" and progressing to "*Sigh*" while sucking her thumb and holding a Security Blanket.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The five stages theme is used extensively in the freeware Adventure Game Eternally Us. Every scene in the game is based on one of the stages.
  • The four stages of rampancy in the Marathon and Halo series (Melancholia, Anger, Jealousy, Metastability) bear a strong resemblance to this.
  • Quite an easy example to miss, but in the Alpha Protocol mission where you assault Konstantin Brayko's mission he'll go through the five stages of grief depending on when/if you choose to execute him in the conversation. Shoot him straight away and he'll barely have time to utter a "no..!", whereas if you execute right at the very end he'll go out with a joke.
  • Here's an interesting argument that the five main areas in The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask match up to the five stages. The Hub, Clock Town, is denial - everyone can see the moon is falling, but no-one can actually deal with it. The Deku Palace is anger (the royal family's search for a scapegoat), the Goron mountain is bargaining (Holding Out for a Hero), the Zoras are in depression and the Ikana Valley is acceptance...because almost everyone there is already dead anyway.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • During the Let's Play of |Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, pokecapn and company can be heard going through all five stages, in order, over the two hours it took them to struggle through the game's worst level, End Of The World. This wasn't lost on pokecapn, who divided the entire ordeal into five videos and subtitled each with one of the five stages. And this video summarizes the whole thing in two minutes.
  • One Little Miss Gamer video demonstrated these (in puppet form) when discovering that your favorite Xbox Live game has been canceled. The fifth stage turns out to be "Obsession Brain Melt Gurrrrrr".
  • The Five stage of Grief to anyone who can fight according to Killlyou: Punch it, kick it, stab it, shoot it, and kill it, preferably painfully.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Emperors New School had Kronk go through this as he came to terms with being left in the wild for a project. However, since it's a two-shorts show, he only goes through three stages (denial, depression and acceptance) and Malina identifies them after he goes through them.
  • Parodied in a Robot Chicken sketch: A giraffe is stuck in a quicksand pit and experiences the stages in order. When he finally gets to acceptance, he hits bottom...with his head and neck still above ground.
  • In The Simpsons episode where Homer eats bad fugu fish and is told he will likely die, he's told of the model by Dr. Hibbert and goes through all five stages in about 10 seconds.

Hibbert: You can expect to go through five stages. The first is denial.
Homer: No way, because I'm not dying!
Hibbert: Second is anger.
Homer: Why you little... Da-! Guuuuuh! Yaaaaah!
Hibbert: After that, comes fear.
Homer: (paranoid) What's after fear? What's after fear?
Hibbert: Bargaining.
Homer: Doc, you've got to get me out of this. I'll make it worth your while.
Hibbert: And finally, acceptance.
Homer: Well, we've all got to go sometime.
Hibbert: Mr. Simpson, your progress astounds me.

    • Well, Homer IS the highly suggestible type ("You're right, I AM the highly suggestible type")
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy TV Movie "Big Boogie Adventure" Grim also goes through the stages in about 10 seconds ... except he gets stuck on anger and never moves on to acceptance.
    • Though in that one, she claims there are 7 Stages of Grief.
  • Parodied on The Ren and Stimpy Show. In the episode "Terminal Stimpy", Stimpy goes through the five stages after realizing he's on the last of his nine lives... except in "Bargaining", he literally bargains with Ren over antique furniture.
  • One episode of Recess, where Vince realizes his older brother Chad is a Geek, has one reference to this, right after Vince is told of the fact, by Gretchen stating "Stage one: denial." But the other stages can be seen as well: where Vince runs from the kitchen table after listening to Chad speak geek, where Vince confronts Chad and tries to reason why he can't be a geek, where Vince despairs over whether he will become a geek like Chad, and where Vince realizes that Chad has his Badass moments too.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar parodies this in "Miss Understanding", with Skipper quickly going through all five stages as Kowalski lists then off.
  • In an episode of Rugrats, Chuckie's pet bug Melville dies. Chuckie exhibits denial, anger, and depression before whisking over to acceptance so fast it causes Mood Whiplash.
  1. "And… um… Aw, screw it! Back to stage 3!"
  2. as in, "The King's Cameleopard"