The model is not the reality
Doctors loved Kübler-Ross’s five stages. The stages gave doctors the capacity to diagnose their dying patients, to target their questions and categorize the evidence: if the patient wasn’t depressed, then maybe she was in denial. The stages provided guidance on what to say in impossible circumstances. She had, unwittingly, provided doctors with a system for discussing death like a medical process. Her collaborator, Kessler, told me that on more than one occasion, a medical colleague would stop by while he and Kübler-Ross were writing to seek help with a diagnosis. “They’d be like, ‘Elisabeth, what stage are they in?’ And she would say, ‘It’s not about the stages! It’s about meeting them where they are!’” She found it laughable how some doctors had the gall to hold an essential organ in their hand but had no capacity for ambiguity.