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The 5 Stages of Grief for a Parent

Guest posts

Today’s guest post is from Kari Wolfe, whose blog Imperfect Clarity passes on everything she’s learning as she works toward building a writing career, interviews fascinating people, parents her daughter in ways she never expected, and forges her own habits of success.

When you’re pregnant (or your significant other is), you spend a lot of your time thinking about the baby. You think about what he/she is going to look like. Will he/she look more like her father or her mother?

You think about what he/she will be like as a baby, how you will treat him/her. Are you going to co-sleep or have a bassinet and/or a crib? Are you going to nurse or use formula? What kind of diapers are you going to use?

I dreamt of giving my baby the type of education I wished I had. The best day cares, the best schools, the best teachers. The best programs. I wanted to give my daughter every opportunity in the world.

When you’re a mother, you can’t help but have these dreams and aspirations for your child. It’s part of your nature.


When Natasha was 18 months old, her father, Tom, and I started to worry. She hadn’t said her first word. When she played, she played in “her own little world,” paying no attention to the kids or adults around her. She batted and flapped her hands at toys she liked. She didn’t pay any attention to us–we could call her name, but she wouldn’t usually react.

Her doctor said for us to sit back, not to worry–this could be just a normal delay in her development. Not a big deal at this age.

He had her tested for autism at 2. We patiently waited a year, going to every therapy we could think of, hoping and praying maybe she was simply developmentally delayed.

She was diagnosed as having autism at 3.


In Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, the original first stage is denial. In the expanded stages, the first effect is shock.

In my case, my husband and I suspected there was something different about Natasha. We had seen it when we went to the playground or visited neighbors–there was a difference in the children.

I was at Starbucks, having a cup of coffee with a behavioral therapist, when she told me that Natasha might be autistic. Here was someone else, outside of the family, who noticed something wasn’t quite right. She didn’t have the education to diagnose; what we wanted was an educated opinion.

I was calm; after all, I knew what she was going to say. Mentally, I had prepared myself; however, my heart broke into pieces.

Watching as she went over the therapies Natasha should receive to help her with her social and communication skills, I froze, a black pit in my stomach growing with every thought and every dollar amount she mentioned.

I saw my dreams for my daughter, my hopes and wishes and desires, vanish into thin air.


Natasha is in hippotherapy (therapy performed while on horseback) for occupational therapy, soon to be for speech therapy, and the stimulation she receives from riding a horse has been extremely beneficial to her. In the past few months, we have seen her go from not really wanting to pay attention to saying her alphabet and drawing smiley faces to actually beginning to mimic the words her father and I are saying. She’s beginning to understand we want to communicate with her and she’s beginning to want to communicate with us as well.

And acceptance seems a perfectly natural thing after all. This is who Natasha is and neither her father nor I want her to change into something she’s not.

Kari Wolfe is a stay-at-home mother of a very curious three-year-old daughter who happens to be autistic. She is a writer and maintains her own blog, Imperfect Clarity where her focus is becoming the best writer (and person) she can be by living her life to the fullest 🙂



  1. Magdalena Ball  •  May 10, 2010 @5:41 pm

    A wonderful post, kari. The movement from shock to acceptance is one that, I think, all parents need to go through in one form or another and I’m sure that your sensitive and powerful story will benefit others as it has me. Thank you.

  2. Janet Ann Collins  •  May 10, 2010 @6:02 pm

    Having raised foster kids with special needs I can identify with Kari’s experience. I hope lots of parents who need her wisdom will read this blog post.

  3. Vivian Zabel  •  May 10, 2010 @6:19 pm

    I pray your daughter’s condition will continue to improve. I understand only too well what you’re going through. However, one of my babies died, and one with brain damage improved to the point he is one of the most intelligent people around, has a PhD, and teaches and coaches high school.

  4. J. Aday Kennedy  •  May 10, 2010 @8:28 pm

    I’ve got a friend that has a son that never spoke until he was four. Noah graduated at the top of his high school class, is in med school and just got married. He’s always been “different”, but his diagnosis of autism dissipated. Whether your daughter continues to exhibit autistic traits or not, I pray she is healthy and happy.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer

  5. Kari  •  May 10, 2010 @11:19 pm

    @Magdalena, I do think all parents go through something along similar lines. Sometimes I think it’s because we like to imagine our beautiful bundles of joy as perfection–and then we learn they’re not 🙂 Thank you for your comment.

    @Janet, I’ve always thought there is something special about foster parents who choose to care for special needs kids. Thank you 🙂

    @Vivian, I am so sorry to hear about your baby that died. So much pain. It brings me to tears to even think about losing Natasha–I can’t imagine what it would actually feel like. Your strength is an example to try and live up to. I am glad to hear about your other child though–it is amazing to see how resilient children can be as well 🙂

    @J. Aday, thank you for your prayers and we hope and pray that, regardless of Natasha’s autism, she will be independent and able to lead her own life. 🙂

  6. Janet Ann Collins  •  May 11, 2010 @1:13 am

    Thank you, Kari.

  7. Brigitte Thompson  •  May 11, 2010 @8:59 am


    What an inspirational journey! Your daughter is very loved and this will help her in so many ways.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  8. Dallas Woodburn  •  May 11, 2010 @1:44 pm

    Thank you for this inspiring, loving tribute to your daughter and your journey. She is very fortunate to have such a caring family! Sending all my best wishes.

  9. Carolyn Howard-Johnson  •  May 11, 2010 @5:23 pm

    What a lovely post, lovely book. Not enough people understand the grieving process but with folks like you two women out there, we are learning.

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson

  10. Stephanie Koch  •  Jul 6, 2010 @4:59 pm

    I have a son who is 2 1/2 and we are going through the exact same situation as you. I understand how frustrating and heart breaking it can be. You are one of the first people I have come across that has had such a similar story and feel very blessed to have found your blog. After reading your story, I have so much more hope for our son and will look forward to hearing more about your beautiful daughter in the months to come.

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