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Medicine and the Arts

The Five Stages of Grief

Pastan, Linda

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001734
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The night I lost you

someone pointed me towards the

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 can 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.

Copyright © 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges