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5 Stages of Grief

Following the death of a student, hose left behind grieve in a variety of ways. Although grief is usually described in a series of stages, not everyone touched by the death goes through the stages of grief in the order they are listed below, and not every person goes through every stage. In addition, some people may return to stages an observer may think that person has already passed through earlier.

  1. DENIAL:
    "No, it can't be! Not him/her!" This may be mixed with shock or disbelief that the event has actually occurred. Students may spend time confirming the facts with fellow students, hoping to discover that there has been some mistake in the reporting.
  2. ANGER:
    "Why him/her? Why not 'Someone Else'? Someone Else is always doing bad things. Why not Someone Else?" As the reality of the loss sinks in, there may be blaming of other people for the event having happened. Or there may be anger at unrelated people and events, a need to rant and rave and be critical.
  3. BARGAINING:
    "Dear __________, if you bring him/her back again, I promise I'll be good and never get mad at him/her again." This may be associated with feelings of guilt, where a student wishes to undo earlier interactions with the one who has died, or even make promises that if this event can be undone, the survivor will be a better, different person.
  4. DEPRESSION:
    "It's so hard, everything is so hard and nothing seems important anymore." Although survivors have other people for support, they may still feel very much alone and sad.
  5. ACCEPTANCE:
    "Well, I don't like what's happened, (sigh) but I can't change anything about it now." This is the culmination of successful grieving when survivors come to grips with the reality of the death.

Developmental Stages of Grief

Infancy:

When a member of the family dies, an infant may receive less physical/loving care as a result of the caregiver's grieving. The infant may react to this situation in a physical manner with increases of crying and not being able to be easily soothed, developing slight skin rashes or clinging to caregivers. Generally, these behaviors are temporary and will diminish as caregivers are again able to focus normal attention to the infant.

Grieving caregivers can be advised to:

  • Spend some time each day in a nurturing, soothing manner with the infant.
  • Keep the infant's routine as consistent as possible.
  • Let other nurturing family members help with caregiving.
  • Allow others to help with household tasks.

Pre-School Age: (Two and one half to five years)

Pre-schoolers do not understand death is permanent. They view it as reversible and temporary. Death may be confused with sleeping or the person merely being absent, with the belief the person will return. Since children are egocentric, death may be perceived as punishment for wrongdoing or caused because the child had previously wished the person dead. Sometimes, death is thought of as violent. Children also sometimes think they might catch the condition which caused the death. Some children think dead people live underground.

Pre-schoolers may exhibit these possible behaviors upon the death of a parent, peer, or other loved one:

  • May show little concern at times.
  • Bedwetting, thumbsucking, baby talk, fear of the dark.
  • Fear of separating from significant others.
  • May need to talk about death a lot. These repetitions make it real for the child, and he/she may say things, such as, "Ben can't use his dump truck anymore cause he's dead."

Adults can do the following to help a pre-school child cope with death:

  • Tell them what to expect regarding the funeral, parents/family grieving.
  • Explain to them how things might look and what might happen.
  • Encourage all adults in the school to use terms "dead/death" and not phrases of "passed away", "sleeping", "resting", or "taken from us".
  • Reassure the child regarding routines, activities, and schedules.
  • Keep explanations short, simple, and truthful. The explanations may need to be frequently repeated.

School Age:

From five to nine years of age, the child begins to perceive death as possible for others but not for them.

Between nine to eleven years, the child will perceive death as including them. Death is becoming more real, final, universal, and inevitable. The child may show interest in biological aspects of death and want to know details of the funeral.

Adolescents will frequently have encountered several situations of loss in addition to death. These losses may include separation from friends, separation and/or divorce of parents, etc. Often deaths of friends, relatives, or acquaintances will trigger feelings of unresolved grief. Adolescents frequently respond to death very intensely. Developmentally, the adolescent is searching for explanations regarding all aspects of life which includes death. Many "why" questions are asked which often cannot be adequately answered by adults.

School-age children and adolescents may show these behaviors:

  • crying and/or sobbing
  • anxiety
  • headaches
  • abdominal pain
  • denial of death
  • hostile reaction toward deceased
  • guilt
  • failure to complete homework
  • poor grades
  • lack of attention and concentration
  • loss of manual skills
  • fear of continuing friendship bonds: might lose another friend

Adults can help school-age children and adolescents by:

  • Providing information for the questions asked.
  • Physically and verbally comforting students - acknowledgment of their pain.
  • Flexing the student's schedule as needed.
  • Referral to appropriate counseling resources.
  • Admitting that adults do not always know why certain events happen.
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