Many years ago, a physician named Elisabeth Kubler Ross described a process that people go through when they’re confronted with death. She identified denial, anger, bargaining, mourning, and acceptance as the stages of grieving. People often found it helpful to understand grieving a major loss as a process, not an event, and to realize that different feelings prevailed at different times.
Those working with people in divorce thought similar stages might apply. “Oh, she’s still in the anger stage.” “Yes, I think he’s reached acceptance.”
I don’t think the original concept ever suggested that the process involved distinct, carefully bounded stages. It isn’t as if you can leave the anger stage and never go back. Most people bounce from one dominant experience to another. One day you may feel fully accepting, ready to get on with your life, and the next day you may plunge back into the pool of grief and feel you’re drowning again.
Over time—for most people, at least a year and often considerably longer—the primary theme does change, though it rarely changes for both members of a couple at the same time. Nor is there ever a 100% graduation from grieving. If you don’t mourn the loss of the spouse, you mourn the loss of the dream.