Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 08/23/2009

The five (six?) stages of grief.

After your child’s death, did you feel….?

  1. Denial. Shock. Disbelief. I refuse to believe it. The refusal exists in me at almost a cellular level. They have misidentified my child. It can’t be true because we had plans for a birthday party, a Christmas celebration, a [fill in the blank]. There has been a dreadful mistake.
  2. 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?
  3. Bargaining. There is a mistake, and I want and need to fix it! There is a yearning to make a deal, a yearning to undo it all, a yearning to have your life any way other than what it is now. Perhaps you pray to exchange places with your child, perhaps praying to a God you are no longer confident exists. You might promise to live a better life if only. You consider all sorts of alternatives to accepting what has happened, perhaps including seeing a priest, pastor, rabbi or even a psychic medium to pray for intercession or to keep the door open. 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.
  4. Depression. I want to kill myself. I’ll do anything to end this pain (it’s a common thought). 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.
  5. 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.

If you felt any or all of these emotions, you share them with the majority of grieving mothers and bereaved fathers. 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.

I still bargain, I think. Not in all the ways I listed above, but in consciously trying to lead a life most likely to return me to some eternal connection with my son Daniel, who died at age 16. And I’m still angry when parents abuse their children, or don’t express their love for them as much as I think they should or could.

I still have bouts of depression, when Daniel isn’t physically in attendance at a sister’s wedding or a nephew’s birth, because I know how proud and overjoyed he would have been to share those moments. Then I think how unfair that is, and I get a little angry all over again. But then I accept it and move on. Or back, should I say, to another stage?

Kubler-Ross’  five stages of grief.

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 [1969]. 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.

That isolation is sprinkled through all of the stages and it never really ends completely. You know that, if you hesitate to mention a birthday or death anniversary because friends expect you to have “gotten over it” by now.  And it is true that we are born into this world alone and we will leave it alone, and if we have dead children, we already are all buried in separate holes, just as our children were. Yet our births and deaths hopefully will be witnessed by loving and supportive family and friends, and we can come together to remember our children and to reach out to one another. Eventually there is acceptance, and a new way of living. New friends who are comfortable with the language of death (next blog topic) may be an important part of speeding up that transition.

Thanks for coming back to the watering hole. Hope to see you back soon.


This article is copyrighted by the author. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reprinted without permission of the author. ©Copyright 2009: Glynn Patrick & Associates


  1. Eureka! Someone has finally talked about ISOLATION as being a major STEP or part of the grieving process!!!

    It’s so difficult for everyone in a DEATH SITUATION:
    a) the deceased, obviously the process of becoming dead, b) the closest family member, in this case it would be the mother or father who has physically contributed to the very creation of this living being and who have suffered the loss of having this beautiful living creation snuffed out into the nothingness of the vaccuum called DEATH. c) the loved ones of the mother and/or father who love them and want to say “The Right Thing,” like it would magically breathe life into the dead body and take away all of their shock, revulsion, and terror in an instant and comfort them so they could sleep the entire night without pacing the floor, obsessing about the “What If’s” of the past and how to change the present to make a better, different one…THESE people eventually believe it’s better not to say anything at all, rather than risk both feet being inserted into the mouth, risking a faux pas, making the parent cry. So eventually no one is talking about the child who has passed away and they have effectively passed on out of everyone’s life…except out of the heart of the parents who cannot understand why all of a sudden the family and friends seem to pretend like the dead person has never existed at all, ever! Snuffed out like a candle. Praise goes to you for your ISOLATION STEP! Thank You!
    Hugs, Not Drugs! Anthony’s Mom.

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