The Five Stages of Grief Through the Eyes of a Body Donor

Savanna Gerlach

The idea of being raised to be a body donor is a terrifying and confusing concept. The idea that it is to be your life purpose and that it will most certainly end in your death so you can be harvested. A lot of feelings and emotions would be running through someone’s head if they were to go through all of this. Grief would be a part of this given it is natural. In the article “Grief Reaction” by Saba Mughal, Yusra Azhar and Waqas J. Siddiqui, it details grief and its symptoms in particular anticipatory grief: “Anticipatory Grief is a response to an expected loss. It affects the person diagnosed with a terminal illness as well as their families.” (Mughal, Azhar and Siddiqui) All of this occurs in the short story “BD 11 1 86” by Joyce Carol Oates is a story that covers this topic through the perspective of a young teenager named Danny who ends up in this scenario. The story shows his mindset and emotions as he unknowingly gets closer and closer to what is supposed to be his fate. The story shows him going through the five stages of grief upon a closer look. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, fear, and acceptance. These five stages are observed in those dealing with grief in situations such as death, grieving and illness. It is shown how Danny goes through all these stages as he is to be a donor as seen in the instances before the graduation date and his harvesting at the end of the story.

The first stage of grief is denial. Denial is denying what is going on and is hesitant to accept the current situation. It is a way to not focus on the current matter, to not have the mind fixed on it. A huge part of the story’s suspense and tension before the reveal at the end is how Danny is purposely put into a state of denial of the people around him such as his favorite teacher and foster parents who say that everything is fine, and he has nothing to worry about when he keeps finding strange things that show he is being left out or some sort of focus is on him. They do not want him to know what is going to happen to him given they already know he will die when he becomes a donor. They could be doing to be humane so Danny can keep living his life as normal as he can before the day comes to harvest him and he will not have to have the worry about dying in his mind. The other reason they could be doing it is to not have him interfere with the results of what is going to happen so that he does not refuse or run away from it. Because of these factors, Danny is in denial at the start of being forced into it. Near the end, he ends up in denial again as he tries to process what is happening when he is given all the info about what is going to happen to him. “You’re kidding right? What’s actually happening here? This is some sort of joke?” (Oates) He tries to question it and says that it is just a joke because he wants to deny what is currently happening. He keeps running through his head that is not real and it is just a prank, or someone will save him even as he is told increasingly about who he is and what will happen to him.

The second stage of grief is anger. Anger comes from feeling angry at what is happening saying how it is not fair or should not be happening. It can also come from feeling angry that things cannot be changed. After learning about some strange things that are occurring around the graduation date for Danny along with the teachers’ behaviors towards him, he begins to become frustrated and ignored. He feels like the teachers have no faith in him for the future. While they are acting the way they are to not tip Danny off to his fate, he takes it as they don’t think he is good enough for college or a good paying job since his grades are not great, being average at best. He feels like all the adults in life have turned on him, which contributes to his growing anger. At the end of the story, he becomes more and more insistent that this can’t be happening to the point of laughing till he hurts his throat, becoming more emotional and unrestrained about his harvesting.

The third stage of grief is bargaining. Bargaining is desperately wanting things to change to the point they would say they would do anything for things to change. It is the desire for things to be different from what is causing grief. Danny wants to have things be different as the adults begin to act weird towards him as well as him being turned down from the places he applied to. It’s clear he wants some sort of change and answer. At first, it seems his bargaining is accepted when he is given a good citizen scholarship. When he gets it, it seems everything is turning around for him and he is excited about the future, he does not know about the looming danger that occurs when the graduation date appears. At the end of the story, he goes into bargaining as he is pleading for something to change. He keeps cycling through different ways that maybe this is all a joke or maybe he will be saved. This can be seen when he latches onto Cale, the one telling him about what will happen. He is somewhat comforted by him and thinks of a scenario where Cale changes his mind and rescues him. “But a second way, which was beginning to be exciting to contemplate, was that Cale would defy his *BIOTECHNIC* employers and help Danny escape from the compound into the hills of North Central New Jersey.” (Oates) He thinks of a scenario seen in fiction and hopes that maybe it will come true which unfortunately does not happen to Danny, no matter how much he bargains for it to happen.

The fourth stage of grief is fear. Fear comes from being afraid such as what can occur during grief and a fear of the unknown. It can also come from fearing death such as the moment of it and what occurs after it. Danny goes through fear when he ends up in the building of *BIOTECHNIC*. He has no clue as to what is going on since everything seems contradictory to what he was promised. It’s clear that the fear is starting to seep in, and he is lost since things have taken a turn that he was not expecting. He ends up in fear again as he learns what is going to happen to him. Fear becomes worse for him when the air seeps through the vents and there is no way out of this for him. He is faced with the moment of death and that this is the end. Despite the promises that it will be humane and painless, it is still terrifying to be faced with the end of life, especially at such a young age. “He was anxious, shivering. A tinge of nausea of the kind he felt before a race.” (Oates) He is forced to confront the terrifying prospect of what everything has been leading up to. This moment is filled with fear, though he slowly begins to let go of that fear as he heads to the final stage of grief.

The final stage is acceptance which occurs in the very end. Acceptance is a way of making peace with what is happening and even trying to find the positive in what has happened. It can be seen as moving on from grief. As the air starts to fill the room, Danny slowly begins to let go of being scared as seen in the previous stage. He reflects on his life and mentally reframes the fact that he will be a body donor. He sees it as having a purpose in his life for once after spending it wondering who he is. His body will be harvested and given to someone else which will help them. It can be seen as an act of kindness from him to this person. He also seems to not be alone since the story has shown he is rather isolated and feels lonely. In this sense, his body will always be with someone else. He also mentions how this meant he was always being watched by this organization and thus there was someone always looking over him. Danny’s overall fate is tragic given his life is forfeit at this point. In “The Grief Process: A Preparation for Death” by Linda Cox Curry and Joy Graham, they observe a patient who is dying and how they and their family handle it: “If a strict disease-oriented viewpoint is adopted, then the case was a failure: the patient died. From an emotional and spiritual viewpoint, however, this individual and his family achieved success, as they had time to complete their journey to acceptance.” (Curry and Stone, pg.1) In his last moments his mind focuses on making his own peace so that it won’t be miserable at the end by coping and rethinking things through. The last line of someone calling out his name is ambiguous as it could be him coping by thinking of a voice or someone coming to comfort him.

The five stages of grief are a concept that applies to the story before the reveal of Danny’s purpose as well as the end when Danny realizes what happens to him. The story is about Danny as he progresses through these stages and shows his changing mindset. The five stages of grief are not always in a set order. In “Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the “Five Stages” Model in a Sampling of Recent American Textbooks.” by C.A. Corr, the article highlights how the five stages are complex and it can be potentially out of order: “It is not clear whether the individuals interviewed by Kübler-Ross did or were obliged to “go through” all of these stages in the order given.” (Corr, pg.2) At first, the first free stages are more at his feelings towards how people are acting and treating him which he goes through. He then goes through the first three stages again when he is confronted with the full truth of who he is and what his purpose is along with the last two stages, being forced to confront them now. The impending loss of oneself is a terrifying concept but, the story explores the way someone’s feelings towards their grief and loss can evolve.


Works Cited

Mughal, Saba, Yusra Azhar, and Waqas J. Siddiqui. “Grief Reaction.” (2018).

Curry, Linda Cox, and Joy Graham Stone. “The Grief Process: A Preparation for Death.” Clinical   Nurse Specialist CNS 5.1 (1991): 17-22.

Corr, C. A. (2018). “Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the ‘Five Stages’ Model in a Sampling of Recent American Textbooks.” OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying, 82(2), 294–322.



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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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