"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:
- Denial: This isn't happening; this is nothing. I'll just pretend it isn't there and it'll go away.
- Anger: This isn't right! I DON'T DESERVE THIS!
- 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.
- Depression: (Ultra-depressed crying).
- Acceptance: Well, everybody dies someday. I guess the only way to be able to live while I'm here is to accept it.
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.
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Anime and Manga
- In episodes 18 and 19 of Code Geass R2, Lelouch was going through this when Nunnally was presumably killed during the FLEIJA explosion.
- One of the many Epileptic Trees about Neon Genesis Evangelion is that the five EVA pilots were each going through/representing a different stage. Basically take the above numbers and apply them to them by "Child", but switch 3 and 4:
Rei: Denial (maybe)
Asuka: Anger (yes)
Shinji: Despair (yes)
Toji: Bargaining (yes)
Kaworu: Acceptance (sort of)
- Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann goes through all of these (except bargaining) after Kamina's death.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, the Elric brothers are shown to have gone through these after their mother's death.
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).
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
- None of them have quite grappled with acceptance yet.
- This happens to many poker players after a bad beat, and often in the quite fast version, despite being Serious Business:
- NOOOOOOOOOOOO! He beat my pocket aces with pocket kings? (Or pocket queens, or pocket deuces, or even seven-two off...)
- You goddamn donk! I'll kill you, and everyone who looks like you!
- I will complain to the poker room. This game was rigged, there's no way this was legit!
- Nah, they'll never believe me. There's nothing I can do. I'm such a loser.
- Oh well, that's poker.
- Some can get stuck in either the anger or bargaining phase for a few hands and make bad decisions. This is commonly known as being "on tilt".
- Fallen Son, a 5-issue limited series, dealt with the death of Captain America 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. However, this is a subversion, as someone almost immediately points out that no one really goes through the stages that fast, and therefore, the Joker must have been acting. In reality, he is all but accepting of his perceived fate.
- 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.
- This fic Five Stages has shown Old Snake reacting to his aging.
- The most recent chapter of Xanatos does this with Sayu, who goes through at least four of the five as she's being kidnapped
- An odd variation is introduced in Calvin and Hobbes: The Series:
Calvin has three steps of response when he hears that a camping trip is coming. Step one: three minute long screams. Step two: denial. Step three: Doing everything in his physical power to prevent himself from going.
- Also referenced in-story:
Hobbes: We're in mid-step two, right?
- The stages are discussed in the Back to the Future fic ''4am, This Letter, while Marty spends his first night in Doc Browns house in 1955 and thinks about seeing Doc getting killed in 1985. Marty cannot remember the correct order of the stages, but he vows he will not let himself go through all five of them.
- Yayoi talks about this in SplitxEnd, one of the stories for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades in regards to JK. He's split between depression for "that incident" presumably about his little sister's death, and denial around Gentaro's death.
- In Blade Runner, Roy Batty goes through them all:
- Denial: Escaping in the hopes of getting more life.
- Anger: "Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc!"
- Bargaining: His attempt to extract a longer life span from his own creator.
- Depression: When he realises it's already too late for his comrades and howls with grief over Priss' body
- Acceptance: His famous dying speech expresses only regret that the things he knows will become lost forever.
- 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
- In Smallville, after Reckoning when Jonathan dies. Clark seems to skip the Denial (since his death has been Foreshadowed quite a bit), taking out his Anger on superpowered criminals, "Bargains" with Jor-El in a deleted scene, sees his father's spirit due to Depression, and finally Accepting it and moving on.
- This LoadingReadyRun 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 O.C. 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 & Order, after Mike Logan's partner is murdered, his grief counseller Olivet tells him that he's going through the stages.
- A Flashback sequence on 30 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.
Anya: Okay, that's denial. That usually comes before anger.
Buffy: I am not having sex with Spike!
- 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.
- Psych major Britta from Community once mentioned denial as the first stage of grief. She's called out on it and, sure enough, that's the only stage she knows.
- In the "In My Time Of Dying" episode of Supernatural these are played with which is even lampshaded by the reaper, who says "Stage three: Bargaining."
- Agron can be seen doing this, though in a different order, in Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its sequels. After his brother is killed, he jumps to Anger by going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, and stays that way for most of the series. Towards the end of the show he is crucified, and then enters Denial over the state of his injuries. He falls into Depression when he realizes he can't fight, and then does Bargaining when he finds a way to fight anyway. And then after they lose the war, and Spartacus dies, he reaches acceptance, when he leaves behind his weapons and leads the survivors to safety and freedom.
- 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. Later on, when Dumbledore is killed, he goes through Denial and Anger for much of Book Seven, Bargaining when he seeks to destroy all remaining Horcruxes (made more evident when he asks the spirit of the daughter of Rowena Ravenclaw for information about one of them), and Depression alongside Acceptance when he discovers that he has to temporarily die as well to get rid of the Horcrux that is inside his body. Harry becomes a fully realized character by the time he and Voldemort settle their definitive battle.
- The final episode of The Now Show LIVE! Olympics Special showed the five stages of grief as they applied to the end of the Olympics. Denial was claiming they'd started before the opening ceremony, so they'd keep going after the closing ceremony, right? Bargaining was trying to convince yourself other sporting events were just as interesting. Depression was turning on the regular news.
- 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.
- Marathon: RED's three chapters are titled "Resistance", "Desperation", and "Acceptance".
- 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: Majora's 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. Also an example of Elephant in the Living Room.
- Woodfall, most particularly Southern Swamp and Deku Palace, is anger: The royal family is in search for a scapegoat due to the disappearance of the Deku Princess, and said scapegoat was actually helping the Princess before her capture. There's also the tourist guide blaming his son Tingle for his childish behavior, despite that happening because of his lack of family attention.
- Snowhead is bargaining: Holding Out for a Hero, specifically Darmani begging Link to solve the problem of the region's climate since Darmani himself died in the attempt.
- Great Bay is depression: Lulu laments the loss of her eggs, Mikau laments having been unable to retrieve them, and the Fisherman laments that the murky water rendered fishing impossible.
- Ikana Valley is acceptance, because almost everyone there is already dead anyway, and is only waiting for one like Link to ease their regrets and lift the curse that originates from Stone Tower.
- The theory also suggests that Link himself goes through the five stages of grief due to his self-exile that resulted from his friend Navi having bid him farewell (and according to Hyrule Historia and the confirmation that he eventually became the Hero's Shade in Twilight Princess, he is unable to reach the stage of acceptance until that very game, after his descendant learns all of the Hidden Skills).
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater: Before Naked Snake confronts The Boss, he faces the Cobra Unit. Each member of the unit "carries an emotion into battle", which each somewhat align with a stage of grief. Notable in that the last one he faces is The Fury, foreshadowing his Start of Darkness.
- Final Fantasy XIII plays this out with Lightning, Snow, Sazh, Hope and Vanille wrestling with individual stages as Serah is turned to crystal and they're branded l'Cie to destroy Cocoon.
- Lightning is Anger, deciding if it's her fate to destroy Cocoon, then fine, that's exactly what she'll do and woe to anyone who tries to stop her. Hope also gets Anger, directed at Snow, who he blames for his mother's death and resolves to kill in revenge.
- Snow is Bargaining, believing that as long as he tries hard enough, there must be a way to set everything right. There's a dash of Denial as well, as if there isn't a way, he's got a lot of guilt to own up to and he knows it.
- Sazh is Acceptance, deciding to turn himself in and be executed because he's tired of running and just wants to see his son again before he dies.
- Vanille is Denial, saying outright she acts happy, cheerful and excited to cover up her deep guilt over inadvertently being the cause of a lot of the story's conflicts.
- At one point in the first episode of You Don't Know Jack 2011, Cookie Masterson asked this question: "Suppose that I Can't Believe It's Not Butter had a line of products based on the Five Stages of Grief. After I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (Denial), which would come next in the line?" The possible answers were:
- I'm Very Angry That It's Not Butter (Anger)
- I've Lost All Hope, Because It's Not Butter (Depression)
- I've Come To Terms With It Not Being Butter (Acceptance)
- I'll Do Anything To Turn It Into Butter (Bargaining)
- Yukari Takeba in Persona 3: The Answer surprisingly follows through these stages, which explains her more aggressive attitude throughout the game:
- Denial: Ever since the death of the main character, Yukari left the dorm alone and attended cram school in order to forget that the main character died. However, it fails to do anything to her as she's eventually called back to deal with the Abyss of Time. And then...
- Anger: Finding out that Aigis inherited the Wild Card, not her, infuriated Yukari further that she started acting hostile and cold towards Aigis.
- Bargaining: Later, Yukari found out that there was a way to reunite with the main character by using the key to go back in time before fighting Nyx and fight it out again. Driven by her love and grief, Yukari decided to take the chance, against everyone else's suggestion (Excepting Mitsuru), and wanted to use the key to go back in time. This causes a friction in the SEES and they end up 'fighting to the death'.
- Depression: Yukari lost, but was restored by Aigis. Still in frustration, Yukari wrestled the key from Aigis... and failed again. In anguish, Yukari finally revealed that she's still unable to get over the death of the main character and has lost hope, only driven with the prospect of reuniting with him again. It was at this point that Mitsuru comforted her and promised that she'll stay with her through hard and good times, enabling Yukari to cry out all her griefs.
- Acceptance: After fighting Erebus and realizing the importance of the main character's death and sacrifice, Yukari finally accepted that she has to move on and do her part in making humans happy for his sake. She's no longer hostile to Aigis and resumes being the good ol' Yukari Takeba. And by the time of Persona 4: Arena, Yukari has even become the actress of the Neo Featherman's Pink Argus, making children who watch her happy.
- 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.
- In the first commodoreHUSTLE episode, "Laundry," James goes through the 5 stages of grief in about 5 seconds on-screen time after washing his iPhone accidentally.
- The Emperor's 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.
Hibbert: After that, comes fear.
Homer: (paranoid) What's after fear? What's after fear?
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.
- The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange: In the My Name Is Earl Parody My Name is Orange, Orange gets mould and has 24 hours to live, in which Dr. Banana states he will go through the five stages of grief, providing a very illustrative montage to the audience.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & 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, Mandy claims there are 7 Stages of Grief (and that the last is despair).
- Parodied on The Ren & 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.
- Discussed in the unproduced final episode of Angry Beavers.