The Five Stages of Grief by Linda Pastan: Summary and Critical Analysis

When the poetess lost him, somebody asked her to go through the five stages of grief. They said it was easy like learning to climb stairs after cutting off a limb by surgical operation. So she climbed. The first stage was the denial of his loss. She supposed that he was with her. So she laid the table for both of them for breakfast. She gave him the toast to eat- but he did not take it.

Linda Pastan (Born in 1932)

She passed him the newspaper to read- but he hid behind it. Then came anger. She burned the toast and took the paper forcefully and started reading the headlines herself. They told her briefly that he had gone away. So, she moved on to the next stage, bargaining. What could she give in order to get him? Could she become silent instead of quarrelling with him? Could she stop writing and pay more attention to him? Before she could decide, depression came to take an increased form. Even if she got him, what would be the gain? There relation was poor. So he was sad. The lock on the suitcase of their relation was broken. That’s why it was tied with string for the time being so that she could use it more in the journey of life.

Why was the suitcase so important? To treat the hurt surface there were bandages and to soothe herself inwardly there were bottles of sleep. Although she climbed up with difficulty, she went smoothly down all the way without being blocked by anything. And all the time hope seemed to flash on and off in defective tube light. Even the faint hope pointed to no fixed direction. Her uncle had hoped that they would compromise but he died when they kept on quarreling. After a year she is still trying to maintain good relation, but she falls down when she looks at his cruel face.

The tree line marking the border of the street to go ahead has long since disappeared; she has forgotten green color which is symbolic of life. Thus passes her depression. But now she finds herself climbing towards the final stage, acceptance. It is quite important. So it is shining in the lights and it has been made a special headline printing in all capitals. She accepts their separation. She does not feel peace after acceptance. She struggles on, waving and shouting. She has not given up unfinished dreams. Below her she finds surfs, the hollow result of her struggle. A fish jumps on the surfs. It shows her vain desire for him. After she accepted their separation, she again thinks of him. Their married life still persists. Separation and meeting are a never-ending process because grief is a circular staircase.

This poem can be interpreted as the experience of the woman confronting a crisis in her marriage: Denial…..behind it. Following denial is anger, then depression, then hope in the form of compromise and at last acceptance. Pastan’s five stages of grief are similar to the stages that Elisabeth Kubler Ross described in On Death and Dying as experienced by the terminable ill. This poem confirmed my conviction that life is full of struggle. We should keep on working hard whatever may come on the way.

Related Topic

Linda Pastan: Biography