Five Stages of Grief in the “Lament for a Son”

Analysis of Wolterstoff’s Reflections

In Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff recounts his grieving experiences following the death of his child (Eric) in an accident (Wolterstorff, 1987). His sentiments capture the sorrow and pain of a grieving parent. His reflections revolve around the comfort or counsel offered to the bereaved as a symbol of solidarity. He reckons that each death is unique in the sense that the suffering endured following the death of a loved one is an intimate feeling. Often comforters say, “I know how you are feeling”, but, in reality, they do not share your suffering (Wolterstorff, 1987, p. 25). In his view, though death transcends all social distinctions, grief is unique to each bereaved person.

The author also discredits comforters who say, “It is not so bad” because they fail to recognize the awfulness of death (Wolterstorff, 1987, p. 34). He advises them to recognize the pain experienced by the bereaved and help them through the difficult mourning period as opposed to underrating the painful experience. He further writes that being in solidarity with the bereaved means helping them have closure and heal from their loss.

The author also reflects on the act of remembering the deceased. He writes that remembering epitomizes the beliefs espoused in Christian and Jewish faiths. Remembrance not only brings the past to life but also enables us to value our history. He notes that it is “in history that we find God” (Wolterstorff, 1987, p. 28). Therefore, we should keep the memories of the departed alive as life is a special gift. Human memory works mysteriously. It allows us to establish real intimacy with the departed and cherish past relationships.

Wolterstoff (1987) also reflects on the suffering God. The author reveals that for a long time, contrary to popular theological views, he knew of “God’s response to delight, displeasure, and suffering” (Wolterstorff, 1987, p. 25). In his grief, the author was able to understand the suffering of God. The pain of the fallen humanity brings suffering to God’s heart. He reckons that perhaps God’s splendor outshines His sorrow. The suffering God sent into the earth his beloved son so that in his suffering we can gain redemption and triumph over wickedness. It becomes clear to the author that the torture and crucifixion of Jesus symbolized God’s suffering to save humanity.

Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief

Kubler-Ross’ (1997) five stages of grieving provide insight into the grieving process. The five stages include “denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance” (p. 51). She states that individuals use defense or coping mechanisms to deal with their loss. The stages may proceed linearly or occur simultaneously. In Lament for a Son, the author says, “That future, which I embraced to myself has been destroyed”, reflecting his disbelief that his son, Eric, is gone. The author’s disbelief shows that he is in a state of denial.

The author’s anger is expressed through the yearning for his lost son. He resolves to live “faithfully and authentically with Eric” as though he is alive (Wolterstorff, 1987, p. 28). He writes that speaking of Eric will help keep him in remembrance. The death of his son throws the author into confusion; he wonders if he loved him more than he loved the other children. The confusion underscores the depression the author went through in the aftermath of his son’s death. Bargaining becomes evident when the author asserts, “We should hold the past in remembrance” to raise our beloved ones from the dead (Wolterstorff, 1987, p. 29). In the end, the author finds solace in God’s suffering, which fills him with the hope of reuniting with his son. The author learns of God’s suffering, which shows that he has accepted the reality of his son’s death.


Wolterstorff, N. (1987). Lament for a Son Paperback. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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