The Five Stage of Grief

The Five Stage of Grief

The night I lost you
someone pointed me towards
the Five Stages of Grief
Go that way, they said,
  it's easy, like learning to climb
stairs after the amputation.
And so I climbed.
  Denial was first.
I sat down at breakfast
  carefully setting the table
  for two. I passed you the toast---
you sat there. I passed
you the paper---you hid
behind it.

Anger seemed more familiar.
I burned the toast, snatched
the paper and read the headlines myself.
But they mentioned your departure,
  and so I moved on to
  Bargaining. What could I exchange
for you? The silence
after storms? My typing fingers?
  Before I could decide, Depression
came puffing up, a poor relation
  its suitcase tied together
with string. In the suitcase
were bandages for the eyes
and bottles of sleep. I slid
all the way down the stairs
feeling nothing.
And all the time Hope
  flashed on and off
in defective neon.
Hope was a signpost pointing
straight in the air.
  Hope was my uncle's middle name,
he died of it.
After a year I am still climbing, though my feet slip
on your stone face.
The treeline
has long since disappeared;
  green is a color
I have forgotten.
  But now I see what I am climbing
  towards: Acceptance
written in capital letters,
a special headline:
  its name is in lights.
I struggle on,
  waving and shouting.
Below, my whole life spreads its surf,
  all the landscapes I've ever known
  or dreamed of. Below
  a fish jumps: the pulse
in your neck.
Acceptance. I finally
  reach it.
But something is wrong.
Grief is a circular staircase.
I have lost you.

Linda Pastan
The Five Stages of Grief

Linda Pastan, "The Five Stages of Grief" from The Five Stages of Grief, published by W.W. Norton & Company. Copyright ©1978 by Linda Pastan. Used by permission of Linda Pastan in care of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. ( and not to be used elsewhere for any other purpose.

The Five Stages of Grief
Linda Pastan


what it means

Pastan is elucidating Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief.  She gives little vignettes to show the experience of each one.

Grief is never ending.  Grief will surprise you with its powerful return.

why I like it

I have been a Pastan fan all my adult life.  I love her straightforward tone and language and how she takes on painful topics.  I got to hear her read last month, and this is one of the poems she read, so when I was looking through her collected works, which I bought of course, this one jumped out at me because I could see and hear her reading it.

As the Poetry Foundation says, "Since the early 1970s, Pastan has produced quiet lyrics that focus on themes like marriage, parenting, and grief. She is interested in the anxieties that exist under the surface of everyday life." Me too.


I love how she takes the same small scene--breakfast-- and resets it for the first few stages of grief.  And the last and first line pretty much the same, that circling back.  The last line surprised the heck out of me.