Home > Book Review, Genre, Length - average but on the shorter side, nonfiction > Book Review: On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler

Book Review: On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler

Book Review: On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David KesslerSummary:
This book presents the science of grief and grieving, based largely upon the lifetime work of renowned psychologist Dr. Kübler-Ross.

How to review the first book you picked up after losing your 58-year-old father suddenly and unexpectedly to a heart attack? Normally I take a very academic approach to my book reviews (or at least I try to). I can’t review this one that way. I certainly wasn’t in an academic frame of mind when I was reading it. I wasn’t anywhere near my normal frame of mind. So instead, I’ll tell you about my experience reading it.

I found out my father was dead at 7am on a Thursday. I knew my father had been taken to the hospital the night before. My brother, who lives near where my father did, called me to let me know. But he also called me with an update that my father was stabilized. Neither of us was very worried, because my dad suffered from heart disease for eleven years and had been hospitalized periodically. He had a pacemaker. He was on medication. He had a specialist who did his long-term care. The ER was confident in his stability. They sent my brother home. My brother called me and told me to go to sleep. I did. He called me again about an hour later and left a voicemail telling me to call him back. I knew from the voicemail what he was going to tell me. I just knew it. I think I knew it the night before when I went to bed too. Because in spite of being told repeatedly that my dad was going to be fine, I cried myself to sleep that night. My brother, when I called him back, told me that my father had gone into cardiac arrest when they were moving him from the ER to a more specialized heart hospital. In spite of being in an ambulance surrounded by health care workers, the heart attack won.

In any case, the instant I heard the voicemail, I went numb. I woke my husband and told him. I called my workplace. I sent off certain work emails to pass off tasks to others to cover. I texted my friends. Then I sat on our bed and I felt….nothing. I was in a complete and total state of shock, I know now. Largely thanks to this book.

Late that night, when I found it was utterly impossible for me to sleep and was certain I would never sleep again, I reached out to the same thing I’ve always reached out to my entire life: books. I opened my laptop and logged in to the Boston Public Library’s ebooks search. I did not have the ability to go off looking for a print book at a branch. I needed help now. In the middle of the night.

I searched the catalog for “grief,” and got a list of…I dunno, a few books. This one was the most scientific. The rest were quite religious, and while that’s fine for other people, that’s not what comforts me. So I downloaded this, and I started to read it. And I instantly started to feel less like there was something wrong with me.

I learned that it’s entirely normal to go into shock at first. To not feel much of anything. It’s your body protecting you, letting the emotions in a little at a time, as you can handle them, so you will stay safe. And indeed, that night, after the first 12 hours of knowing, I sobbed in my husband’s arms. Thanks to this book, I knew that the numbness could come and go. In fact, the most helpful thing I learned in this book was that the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) don’t come in order necessarily, and they’re not neat. You don’t move through them in an orderly fashion. You may be angry one day, depressed the next, in denial another, and feel ok and accepting for a bit, then right back to depression. And that’s normal and ok.

I also learned, which was really important for me to know, that the stage of anger can sometimes express itself as guilt, which is just anger turned inward. Some people are more likely to turn their anger inward, and I am definitely one of them. Knowing this was where my (irrational) guilt was coming from (god knows I couldn’t possibly have saved my father from a heart attack from hundreds of miles away) made it much easier for me to cope with the feelings when they did come up.

There were other particular things that the book predicted might happen that kept me from getting freaked out when they did. For instance, I periodically was certain my phone had buzzed with a text message from my father. So certain, in fact, that I picked it up to check. Twice I thought I saw my dad on the street. Both of these I may have been concerned were abnormal, but the book reassured me these “ghost sightings” are totally normal. It’s your body and brain readjusting to your new reality.

The book also gave me warnings about things to come. Things like how the first holidays without the person or the person’s birthday would be difficult. So I knew to expect that and prepared myself for it. It also talked about being patient with yourself in things like dealing with the loved one’s possessions. Not to rush yourself, that it’s ok to take a little bit of time. There were also warnings about how quickly the person’s scent will fade that meant I took the time to really smell a couple of my dad’s tshirts, because I knew the scent would be one of the first things to go.

There is a “specific circumstances” section that talks about things like multiple losses simultaneously or suicide. I wish this section had a bit more on various other special circumstances. For instance, I had just gotten married 7 weeks before, and then my father died. I would have loved a section talking about the juxtaposition of such happiness with such sadness, and how to handle the emotions of things like your first married Thanksgiving (so happy!) also being your first Thanksgiving without your father.

Overall, this book gave me guidance of what to expect from my grief in the immediate time after the loss, as well as in the first year. It mostly contains universal information that will be helpful to anyone going through a loss. If you are a person who finds comfort in books or science, you will find comfort in this read. If you love someone who has recently lost a loved one, reading this will help you to know what behavior from them is normal and guide you in supporting them and validating them through the experience.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 270 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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  1. March 2, 2016 at 9:41 am

    I’m sorry. So sad to lose your dad so young! I’m glad the book helped. I’ve never read that one, but I think I will soon.

    • March 2, 2016 at 9:51 am

      Thanks, Laurie. I debated whether or not to review the book since it’s such a personal scenario, but it did help and I wanted people to know that.

  2. March 2, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Like you, I instinctively turn to books when I need help. And thank goodness for ebooks when the need for a book strikes at odd hours.

    My condolences on the loss of your father–he was so young, and though had a history of heart disease, I can only imagine the shock, grief, loss, and anger you felt. I’m glad you found a book to help you navigate through this difficult time and to help understand how your body was reacting to the situation.

    Best wishes as you continue to deal with you loss, and thanks for a powerful review, not only of the specific book On Grief and Grieving, but on the process of using books to help you through the hard times.

    • March 3, 2016 at 9:23 am

      Jane, thank you so much for leaving such a thoughtful comment. I was very nervous to post a review that was so personal, and I’m really glad people are connecting with it.

      Thank you too for the condolences. I really do appreciate them every time.

  3. March 5, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    I also look to books for help with anything that’s going on and recommend them as a solution for other people too. I’m sorry for your loss and glad this book helped some.

    • March 9, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      Thanks, Katie. I’m glad the post has gotten people talking about the power of books.

  4. SamanthaGrace
    March 29, 2016 at 5:01 am

    I found your blog while looking for reviews of “A Stolen Life” by Jaycee Dugard… next thing you know, I’m pages deep and reading reviews for books that I’ve never even heard of. So, first, amazing job! I will be frequenting your blog in future.

    I’m just commenting to express my condolences on the loss of your father, and thank you for the extremely honest review. It couldn’t have been an easy thing to sharel, it is the first time that I’ve seen such a personal review. I hope others can find comfort and peace through your review.

    • March 29, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Thank you for taking the time to make such a lovely comment! I really appreciate it. It’s such a cool thing to hear about someone stumbling upon your blog and then getting sucked into it 🙂

      The review was very difficult to write, and I was hesitant about being so honest, but I do strive for honesty and authenticity so I decided to go for it. I was a bit concerned that people might be turned off by how personal the review was, but in fact people have responded exactly the opposite. It’s been really wonderful and healing for me to see other people touched that way.

  5. CARLA Barber
    August 18, 2021 at 8:34 am

    Thank you for this review. I’m going to look into getting this book. I, too, lost my father just last year on March 17, 2020. He battled cancer for 6 years. It was devastating, but then, just 6 weeks later on May 21st, my mom died suddenly. That day is still a blur as I know I went into shock. The best book I read on grief was Megan Devine’s “It’s OK That You’re Not OK” With this and grief counseling, I’m doing better, but I still feel the continuing bonds with both my parents even though they are not here with me. I’m so sorry for your loss, but thankful you found help from this book. I’m going to look for it today. Sincerely, Carla

    • August 18, 2021 at 6:04 pm

      Carla, thank you for your kind words. I am in return sorry for your loss but am also glad that my small book review blog post has brought you any assistance in working through your grief. Wishing you peace and healing.

  1. September 8, 2016 at 12:01 pm

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