The “5 stages of grief” aren’t applicable to me.

31 Mar

Sometime in the first two weeks after Julian’s death, I remember asking a friend, “what are the 5 stages of grief, again?” My expectation was that I could check them off, one by one, and track my progress toward the last one, “Acceptance.”

Turns out, the “5 stages of grief” aren’t as applicable to my situation as I thought. They have been taken out of context and oversimplified and generalized. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s research focused on the stages a terminally ill patient went through as they prepared for their own death, not 5 linear stages in which humans process death and loss.

This was news to me, and somewhat frustrating. I like to plan, and I’m good with a to-do list. I wanted a checklist that I could work through. Turns out, grief has an infinite number of stages, and comes in waves.

Sometimes those waves can knock you right off your feet. But also, sometimes the waves just gently roll over your feet, reminding you they are there without disrupting your balance at all. Usually, my personal waves of grief are somewhere in between.

Sadly, based what I’ve read in books and blogs written by parents who have lost children, some parents wake up every morning and get pummeled by those waves all day long. They seem to accept these crushing waves as their new reality, their life sentence.

I don’t want to be one of those parents.

I’d love to know who visits my blog, and I’d especially like to know if you have any thoughts or comments about it. If you’d like to send me a note or just let me know you were here, click “Leave a comment” below to get access to a comment box and a “like” button. Just like on Facebook, you can “like” the post as a method of saying hi.

Posted by on March 31, 2011 in month 1


12 responses to “The “5 stages of grief” aren’t applicable to me.

  1. vicki

    April 4, 2011 at 11:34 am

    great love to you, emily. i was very moved by your blog. i hope you continue on this path and find the beauty in life that you obviously have in you. 🙂

  2. Darlene Lund, dj

    April 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Dear, dear Emily, Thank you for inviting me to your blog…interesting about those 5 stages of grief. Sometimes one goes years with out checking them all off. It took me 20 years to finally grieve for my Dad…we were like 2 peas in a pod…I still miss him but the deep, deep pain has lessened to a more gentle remembrance of him, and I go on. love you, take all the time you need…remember, to-do lists will be here long after you are gone. dj

  3. agirl

    April 23, 2011 at 12:12 am

    you embody fierce, determined hope. please keep blogging

  4. zannedel

    May 30, 2012 at 12:43 am

    I have come across your blog when googling ” how to write an obituary for a child” My nephew was 20 months old. He passed away about a week and a half ago. I am 30 yrs old without children. I want to help my sister, and try to understand an ounce of what she is feeling. I have sent her a link to your blog. I hope it helps her. I hope it helps me help her. Thank you.

  5. zannedel

    May 30, 2012 at 12:46 am

    Michael had a caringbridge site, just like Julian 🙂 -

  6. Charlotta Norby

    September 28, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Hi Emily –
    I’m reading this long after you wrote it. I was at a quilt retreat with your mother last week, and spent a lovely dinner talking to her about Julian, you, your awful loss, Oscar, and so forth and so on – prompted by my realization that it was she who had made the “Red Berries for Julian” quilt which I had read about in my book.
    My nephew was killed in a car accident at age 18 in 1998, so our family has also experienced the horrific grief you describe. One of the things I learned from my sister-in-law and that experience, was that you cannot hurt the feelings of a grieving parent (or grandparent) by mentioning her dead child, she never forgets him and she is always happy to talk about him.
    It has helped me a lot, on the occasions since then when unfortunately I have known others whose children died.
    I just wanted you to know I am reading – kind of felt like eavesdropping unless I told you. All my best on your continuing journey and life, Charlotta

  7. Brittney Jo

    October 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Hello Emily!
    I came upon your blog, through a friend who found it and shared it. I just want to tell you, how incredibly inspiring you are!! My daughter was born still March 28th, 2011. I want to thank you for your blog. I haven’t gotten to read too much of it yet, but I can’t wait to read the rest. You are such an incredibly strong woman, and I am terribly sorry about Julian 😦 ❤ hugs to you mama.

  8. S

    July 12, 2015 at 8:58 am

    I find Your words truly giving me hope. I’ve been in grief and want to learn to live with it. The way you feel and see things is something different, something that makes me feel like I can handle with this. Can’t really describe it better in English but just want to say Thank You.

  9. Consuela Brown Dart

    July 20, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    I losty 10 year old daughter Nov 3 2013. We were riding horses. Her horse began running and wouldn’t stop. It ran to the road. Time stood still but yet spun out of control so fast. She fell off into the road into the path of an oncoming truck. I witnessed my Chloe’s death first hand. It doesn’t seem as if its this long. I don’t believe I will ever ever be able to rid these visions and this whole true life nightmare from my mind. I replay it over and over again. I couldn’t help my baby.

    • Emily Eaton

      July 21, 2015 at 6:17 pm

      Oh I am so sorry to hear your story. I can’t even imagine the horror you describe.

      You might want to consider working with a therapist that specializes in EMDR. It’s been proven to be very effective with war veterans and other PTSD victims. Google “EMDR” for more info.

      Thank you for sharing your story and I wish you the best in your journey to find peace.


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