In one sense, the story of Job does not translate to the stages of grief as set forth by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, if only by virtue of the fact that Job’s misery is not as distinct as that of losing a loved one. As is famously known, Satan makes Job undergo intense pain, but the losses of Job themselves tend to overshadow what is normally considered any grief arising from a death. Job’s children are taken from him, but so is his wealth, position, and health, so it may be said that whatever grief Job endures is too broad to be subject to any grieving model; he is the ultimate example of the man who is robbed of everything. Then, Job’s patience in the face of his trials is as legendary as the losses, which also contrasts with traditional stages of grieving. No matter the suffering, Job endures, fixing his resolve on his faith in God even as he curses his own fate. Lastly, Job expresses a quality not typical in grief: praise. Grieving is a turning into the needs of the self, yet Job manages to praise God in the face of his own nightmare (Walsh, 2012, p. 102), and this is not reflected in the Kubler-Ross stages at all.
At the same time, a more careful examination of Job’s story reveals certain similarities, or at least versions of the Kubler-Ross stages. To begin with, the sheer fact of the speed with which Job is stripped of the elements of his life plunges him into denial. He loses his children and his possessions in a matter of hours (Walsh, 2012, p. 102), so it may be assumed that denial for Job is so extreme, it is shock. Then, he reflects aspects of depression and anger, or even rage; Job indulges in emotional pain because that is all that is left for him, and this is exacerbated by his confusion regarding God’s indifference (Walsh, 2012, p. 103). Strangely, then, even as the circumstances of Job seem to defy the Kubler-Ross stages of grief because his grief is so all-encompassing, these stages are nonetheless manifested in his behavior. Even this radical example of suffering on all levels is still human, and he responds as humans typically do when tragedy strikes. He is stunned to an extent of disbelief, he is angered by his fate, he is saddened beyond measure at a perceived abandoning by God, and he accepts through all of this because his faith demands it. Perhaps the only stage missing in Job’s story is that of bargaining, which would be as well a contradiction of the faith that is left to him. Put another way, and in Job’s circumstance, acceptance that arises through a sense of God’s will must render bargaining irrelevant.
With regard to how joy reflects aspects of the grieving process, or is engaged in a relationship with it, it is tempting to point to the two extremes bordering the process itself: the initial loss and the acceptance that culminates the Kubler-Ross stages. As is obvious, any joy felt in the presence of another is shattered when death takes that person. Then, acceptance may not be a calm state itself, after the more violent stages are gone through. That is to say, acceptance may take the emotional form of serenity, which is akin to joy. The grieving person then may experience a profound satisfaction in recognizing the bond with the deceased, and this may translate to a kind of joy.
It is also interesting to note the role anger may play in reflecting joy. The stage of anger in the model serves as a containment mechanism; it renders the loss a thing that may be fought against (Hill, 2011). Anger, however, is a particularly strong emotion of uncertain properties. It may take any number of forms, and it also reflects individual power. It is when the self is “surging,” and this links it to the similarly effusive state of joy. This is not to suggest that the emotions are interchangeable. Nonetheless, people often give into feelings of anger because there is an elation that occurs, so it is reasonable to draw a connection. Returning to the stage of acceptance again, research has identified distinct similarities between the emotional stages of dying and those of grief. Not surprisingly, acceptance as occurring in the dying is often characterized by a kind of serenity. The ego is no longer dominant and a spirituality often emerges (Renz et al, 2012). This then serves as further evidence that acceptance may easily translate to feelings, if not joyful, resembling joy.
As to my personal means of dealing with grief, I confess that, like many, the Kubler-Ross model presented issues for me. More exactly, I was not inclined to give this validity because I have always believed that grief is too variable and personal an experience to lend itself to anything but the most basic framework. As I have investigated further, however, it seems to me that the model actually is no more than this, because the five stages are acknowledged as being extremely varied in duration and intensity, depending on the individual. Some people undergo several stages in the course of a single day; others bypass one or more stages (Hill, 2011). This openness of possibilities than adds integrity to the model in my eyes, for it expands to admit to the inestimable variables of human experience following loss. Then, as I look at the Kubler-Ross with greater appreciation, I perceive that the actual defining of stages does not inherently diminish the emotions involved. I had an antipathy to the model because I felt that structure eviscerates human meaning, but I no longer believe this to be true. To note a stage of denial or bargaining is to do only that, and the reality of the human experience remains the same. Most importantly, I have come to perceive that my own ways of dealing with grief echo the stages, and simply because the stages invariably address fundamental human reaction.
- Hill, J. (2011). Synchronicity and Grief: The Phenomenology of Meaningful Coincidence as It Arises during Bereavement. (Doctoral dissertation, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology). Retrieved from
- Renz, M., Mao, M. S., Bueche, D., Cerny, T., & Strasser, F. (2012). Dying is a Transition. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Retrieved from
- Walsh, C. (2012). Chasing Mystery: A Catholic Biblical Theology. Minnesota: Liturgical Press.