How useful are the ‘5 stages of grief’ when your kid leaves home?

For many, grief is keenly associated with their kid leaving home. It can take many guises, from simple sadness, maybe fleeting, to overwhelming, searing pain.  For the sufferers, when mixed with optimism and strength (underpinned with support from others), it may take on a less painful shape. For others it cuts deep, dominates and requires more work to recover from.  Whatever it looks like for you, it’s normal.

An immense life chapter is closing, however that was for you, leaving now a missed presence, a laugh, smell or gesture gone.  An almost tangible nostalgia for the early days of soothing, cuddles, chubby fingers and curiosity. A house full of picture books and crayons, pretend baking and real baking. Parks, picnics and parent gatherings. Teddies, tears, tantrums. Pure love and deepest joy. For some they grieve the really hard stuff too – the stuff that tests some parents. “It was hard but it was real and we were important,” said one friend.

It depends on your experience of parenting. Grief is not fussy, it is happy to stay around when it finds a comfy home.

When Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote her seminal text on grief – On Death and Dying , she was exploring the phases of life, death and transition that a terminally ill person goes through, on learning of their imminent mortality.  The book’s ‘Five Stages of Grief Model’ took flight into a broader context of grief, the emotional journey the ones left behind take when they lose someone (or something) they love.

The model has helped untold numbers make some sort of sense of their grieving experience, considering the different aspects of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  Essential reading – the next stage in the Kubler-Ross story when she teamed up with David Kessler in On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss

People who grieve know the stages are not linear. That they may be random, or cyclical  or may not be experienced at all. They may occur in any order, and they may repeat. Or not.  Kubler-Ross was determined to clarify (after the way her stages became the ‘Go To Guide to Grieving’)  the unwieldy, unique nature of grief, and her attempts  were to normalise it and put an understanding around it rather than to confine it.  Yet commonly, we do experience some or all stages to varying degrees, and whatever you experience with your grief, it’s normal.

The ultimate lesson is learning how to love
and be loved unconditionally.
Kubler-Ross

The Five Stages (- let’s say the five possible experiences) of Grief:

denial – a lack of acceptance
anger – someone is to blame for this!
bargaining – if I do this, that will happen.  i can fix this!
depression – here is the emptiness, the loneliness, the sadness
acceptance – our evolution to the next chapter of our lives. We’re all going to be ok. 

(Note to self: I’m looking at number two – anger – and realising I started to blame my husband for my kid moving a 5 hour plane ride away…)

In later works with David Kessler,  Kubler-Ross moved to exploring how to live life to its fullest in every moment, in Life Lessons.  Maybe that’s essential reading after acceptance moves in?

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