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Re-imagining the Stages of Grief

Mirabai Starr reimagines Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s fives stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) as stations or portals, and has renamed them: contemplation, rebellion, surrender, lament, and return.

These moments cycle and spiral and don’t necessarily come in any particular order. They're simply touchstones or possible flavors in the landscape of grief.


This is a turning inward. Going quiet and interior to be be present with things as they are. The need to withdraw from the world and be present with what has happened, when the soul is yearning for some space to simply be. It’s a threshold time when the veils are very thin. It can feel like a dream. She also calls this the grace space. When the fire of loss comes sweeping through, clearing away everything, leaving us hollow. And in that emptiness, sometimes, if we’re quiet (and lucky) grace comes sweeping in.


It’s natural to rebel against a reality that isn’t ok with us. When everything annoys you and pisses you off, when you have no time for anything that feels like BS. When something that has provided the ground of our life just falls out from under us and we’re in free fall, it’s very tempting to blame someone. Anger can jumpstart our life force again for a time, can even bring a feeling of passion. There can be a sense of existential angst in this moment on the grief journey, where everything becomes meaningless. We may make boundaries and tell our truths because any need to please others falls away or is greatly diminished.


It’s the wailing. It’s the begging of forgiveness. A time of being inconsolable. Nobody can say or do anything to take away the pain or convince you that you are ok. It’s the remorse and regret, when you wake in the night to replay the events over and over, re-imagining it all, as though you can change the story and the outcome. This is the “If only” time. If only I had done this or that. When the mind is in overdrive looking for a different outcome.


When you don’t have the energy to make anything different than it is. Mirabai says: you just let yourself down into the arms of sorrow. When we take our place of belonging with all the others who have experienced loss and suffering. She calls it a dark night of the soul and also a shabbat. It’s a place of holy rest.


Looking at reality as it is. When we enter a space that is bigger, that allows us to integrate the truth of the facts of what has happened. Where we find a new center of gravity. Where we learn to live with what is and begin to re-enter the stream of life. (And where we do our best to live a life of meaning and purpose and goodness and beauty. And perhaps be a source of that to others.)

I’m only now, six months after my husband’s death, dipping into the Return for moments... but the other stations feel intimately familiar to me. And I appreciate the idea that all these are simply flavors or guideposts on the journey that we may touch again and again in new, perhaps softer, ways.

I like the idea that there’s no way to be victorious over grief, to do it well or correctly. And that the process isn’t a checklist towards acceptance or some path to enlightenment but rather a movement to becoming more deeply human, more human than ever.

If you are tender or grieving, you might consider joining the community Mirabai Starr has created, called Holy Lament, to explore these transformational portals on the grief journey.

(Image by Susan Wilkinson / Unsplash)

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