The Six Stages of Grief

1969 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. This model introduces the five emotions experienced when a loved one dies; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  The misconception was that she intended for the  grieved to experience these emotions in the order outlined in her book but that was wrong. She corrected herself, years later, to say that those emotions are felt in total, those five feelings are experienced, but not necessarily in any order. Years after that the model was expanded to included emotional loss, not just loss of life. Some of the things noted were loss of a job, infertility diagnoses, the end of a marriage or significant relationship and even sports fans were mentioned, for the end of a season or a loss of a big game and finally grief over substance addiction but that only pertained to the addict themselves. The only thing I did not see mentioned was the grief due to addiction of a loved one. I know it doesn’t rank with childhood cancer, or the loss of a child or a child born with a debilitating disease but it should have its place.

The really shitty thing about the stages of grief are that most go through the stages, and find some sort of acceptance at the end. It might take years, or even decades but eventually, the acceptance sets in and closure begins. That is not the case with addiction. Sometimes I get all the way to the end of the emotions, I am able to accept that she will be an addict always and forever but it can manageable to be surprised when she is in active addiction again. It’s a constant roller coaster of emotion. At any time I could be feeling any of the emotions. And I know that people are sick of hearing about it. No one wants to hear me complain, five years in, about how angry I am at her for running again, or how depressed I am that her life is so unmanageable. I don’t want to lay in bed bargaining with someone or something about her finding the path home. I have made more deals about not swearing, going to church, giving to the needy, donating money, and the like that I should have been able to save a thousand addicts by now, but that isn’t how it works.

The way it works is denial comes and goes. And anger is always there, and no matter how much bargaining I do, nothing will change, and it’s depressing that I have to accept that she is going to ruin her life whether I like it or not. A part of parenting is having a plan for our kids, and for them to not want to follow that plan. And that is ok. Except when it is making living so difficult. When people say to me that they are sorry, I say that they should be sorry for her, not me. My life will go on, one way or the other. All of that is true, but the endless stages of grief game is frustrating and annoying. There is no way to truly find acceptance. I mean, yes I accept that she is an addict, and yes I accept that I cannot control it, but I can’t accept that she will keep running until she is dead, or that she might or may recover but only if she wants it. How can she not want it? Why wouldn’t she want it? Ok…I think you get my point.

All of that while my child is alive and an addict, but she might not live, and then I have to go through it all over again, to a different degree. The joy of being a parent of an addict that dies is that there are actually 6 stages of grief. The one that no one knows about, or talks about, or thinks about, is guilt. The parent of an addict will always feel guilt. Did I throw her out soon enough? Or should I have done it? Did I yell at her too much, or not enough? Should I have sectioned her again, or did I section her too much? Did I have to ignore her call the last time because I couldn’t listen to the drama anymore? Is that why she died? Because I ignored her? Why didn’t I know she was going to die? How come I didn’t feel it? As a mother the moment she passed from this world to the next, shouldn’t I have felt SOMETHING, a sense that my child had left the earth? No matter how much or how little a person does for their addicted child there will always be something we will wish had done differently to change the ending.


Right now, as I write, my daughter is alive, and possibly in recovery. I believe she is, I think she is, I have no reason to think she isn’t, except a feeling. My father said to me that we can only hope that this last time, with the stroke and the mental deficiency that it would be a real and final wake up call to her, only I don’t think so. I don’t feel that way. I want too. I try too. I was faking it until I make it, but I can’t hide my defeat. AC says I am being negative. A friend says I am being realistic. JoDee thinks I am being an asshole. But the truth is I am stuck in one of the stages: Anger. I am so angry that 5 almost 6 years later we are still doing this dance. We are still going back and forth to hospitals and detox and rehab. We are still having moments when we don’t talk or pretend that nothing is wrong when everything is wrong. For my life anger is good. Anger is motivating and energetic and helps me concentrate at work, and clean the laundry room, and wash the kitchen floor and clean out the fireplace. Depression would have me in bed with the red blanket over my head with my cat sleeping on my chest while I refuse to adult in any capacity at all. Anger is hard for JoDee, depression is hard on my family and addiction is hard on all of us.


One thought on “The Six Stages of Grief

  1. dorcon says:

    I think that having a child in active addiction IS the same degree of grief as having a child with a debilitating disease. Because you have to watch them slowly committing suicide right in front of your eyes, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to save them. I had one of my sons in a coma from a traumatic brain injury, at the same time as another in addiction, and the grief I felt from the addiction, which I had no control over, was far more overwhelming. I knew I could help my son with the brain injury, but the other I could not do a thing to change his outcome. They are both doing well now, but the depths of depression couldn’t go any lower.


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