The Sixth Stage of Grief

Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance and… Living.

1. Denial and Isolation

I was too young. That’s what kept running through my head. I had locked myself in my bedroom and was crying into my pillow. He had been my best friend. But… Maybe my parents were wrong. Maybe the doctor had gotten it wrong. Maybe George was just playing a prank. He wasn’t really gone, that’s it, they were all wrong.

What sort of world takes away the best friend of a ten year old boy, my best friend? For that matter, what sort of world takes away a ten year old boy? No, this couldn’t be real. Someone got it wrong, and any minute now I’d hear the phone ring as someone called us to tell us about the mistake.

This wasn’t reality. This wasn’t my reality.

2. Anger

My mom was in the hospital and I had come to realize she likely wasn’t to come back out. I sat at a stop light, behind the wheel of my car on a March morning in Florida. In that moment I was overcome with a blinding rage. A rage I hadn’t ever experienced, and have yet to ever experience again. I unleashed a guttural cry of anguish, the sort you see in movies, and I started slamming my hands into the steering wheel. And then the light turned green.

I took my foot off the brake and rolled forward, forcing myself to take some gulps of air and wiping the tears from my eyes as I pulled into a gas station and let the anger roll over me.

3. Bargaining

I sat in an empty meeting room at work. I stared at the beige walls and I tried to figure out what deal I could make with God.

When my mom was in Houston, undergoing her bone marrow transplant, there were several nights where I talked to God. I begged him to make it work. To cure her. To bring her back to me. And then she did come back, recovering from her bone marrow transplant for several months until a fateful day when we discovered she had a fever, which led us to take her to the hospital.

This week I sat in that office room and tried to understand if I could do anything. If there was anything I could do, I would do it. I asked God if there was anything I could do to extend the time I had my grandmother on this planet.

4. Depression

It had been a few weeks since he died. I didn’t understand what I was going through at the time. Few people do even as they get older, much less a child. A family from my church offered to take me to Disney World with them. Josh was a boy near my age, we weren’t really close but we were friendly.

A trip to Disney still held the essence of Magic that Walt worked so hard to create and cultivate. Looking back, it was a critical chance for me to remember what being a kid was. At the time, it was exciting not only because of going to Disney but also because I would get to miss school and that was a really big deal.

I remember riding the Tower of Terror, watching Indiana Jones, and going on Star Tours. And in that one day, I was reminded what it was to be a kid. Yanked back from the precipice of adulthood through depression to reclaim a few more years of adolescence and joy.

George was gone, and I had struggled to come to terms with it.

5. Acceptance

“Sure dad, one sec.” I stepped away from my desk and closed the door to the empty meeting room. “Alright dad, what’s up.” I knew why he was calling, but I asked hoping for a different answer. Grandma was dead. I knew that was why he was calling.

And despite hearing the words from his mouth, I was calm. This is what grandma wanted, with her strict “Do Not Resuscitate” order. I sat in that room for a few minutes just waiting for something, anything, to wash over me. It was the same room I had negotiated with God just a few days ago. I waited for sadness, tears, anything. All that I found was acceptance.

Eventually I left the room and returned to my desk. Mike, my editor knew what was going on and he asked if I was okay. When I told him that she was gone, he did something which was exactly what I needed: a hand on the shoulder and an offer to talk if I needed.

6. Living

Death is a part of life. Every time I deal with someone passing, I have to remember what it is to live. Friday night Katie and I put out an email to our group of friends seeking plans for the evening. One couple, then two, then three, all confirmed and dinner plans were made.

At dinner we talked and laughed. We told stories and enjoyed conversations with each other. They all knew my grandmother had died, and they each did a fantastic job of reminding me what happiness and life is.

The five stages of grief are the journey through the underworld of sadness, and it is life which we break out to.