The five (six?) stages of grief
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
After your child’s death, did you feel….?
Denial. Shock. Disbelief. I refuse to believe it. They have misidentified my child. It can’t be true because we had plans for a birthday party, a Christmas celebration. There has been a dreadful mistake.
Anger. Why is my child dead when that [lousy, stupid, uncaring, ill-prepared, drug addicted, too-young, too-old, abusive, neglectful — fill in the blank] parent is still allowed to have a child? Suddenly the world is full of parents who don’t appreciate their children – who whine about nothing or yell at them in public! Why me and not them? Why did God do this to me?
Bargaining. There is a mistake, and I want and need to fix it! There is a yearning to make a deal to undo it all, to have your life any way other than what it is now. You might promise to live a better life if only. . You would do anything to undo the finality of it all, the separation. You may not be aware of all of the time you are spending with “if I do this, promise you’ll do this” kind of wishful thinking and bargaining.
Depression. I want to kill myself. I’ll do anything to end this pain. You may also have a sense of impending doom, of something about to happen to you or to other people you love — especially if you have other children. Guilt. Worry. Feelings that the grief over your child’s death is literally killing you. A sorrow that can’t be fully expressed or mitigated.
Acceptance. Not of the death, but of the idea of continuing your life in some fashion, knowing there is a finality about the situation, and dealing with it. There is a reorganization of life, not a continuation. Things don’t go back to the way they were or return to “normal” – there is a new, different normal.
These stages seldom follow a one-two-three-four-five progression. One may not end just because another has begun. You may cycle through them singly or co-mingled for days, months, or forever.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Swiss-born scientist, doctor and death work guru, emigrated to the U.S. early in her career. She became a psychiatrist and an internationally acclaimed pioneer in the field of death work after identifying and publishing her model for the “five stages of the grief” in On Death and Dying . Even today, it remains the most influential work published on the topic.
Her body of work fueled my desire to go into death work, and she also later influenced my belief that a soul’s energy or “consciousness” survives a body’s physical death. The mere fact that she believed it opened my mind, too, to the possibility of life after death. Kubler-Ross became a believer in psychic mediums and perhaps reincarnation, and she was again rather groundbreaking in those studies. I admit, however, that I initially was somewhat put off by her seemingly eccentric affiliations and behavior in those later years. So in that regard, I’ll concede that Kubler-Ross perhaps was New Age before New Age was cool.
But that doesn’t minimize her body of work or conclusions. Imagine the insight gained from the thousands of interviews Kubler-Ross did with the dying and their family members. Too, Raymond Moody, Jr.‘s pioneering work with regard to Near Death Experiences and energy surviving death spurred a new era of death investigation. Both orientations influenced me to be a better listener and to open my mind, both in the field and in the counseling office where I worked as a police crisis interventionist.
But is there a missing link in the here and now?
I can’t help but think, as a bereaved parent, that Kubler-Ross left out one stage. She left out isolation. Aloneness. The feeling of separation not only from the child, but from everyone. From family members. From society. From expectations. From the future you had imagined. From every other single human being on earth, even your partner or other children. No one can fully appreciate the depth of your loss, not even another bereaved parent. No one.
But we try to help and support and be her. Thanks for coming back to the watering hole. Hope to see you back soon.