The Five Stages and Sirius: Coping with Loss

by Tory

The last few chapters of Order of the Phoenix are possibly the saddest, yet well written, in the Harry Potter series, mainly because Harry is in such pain from the loss of Sirius. He feels anger, grief, guilt, and a whole mess of other emotions that combine to make one heck of a tormented Harry. While Harry is a completely unique individual, with his own personality and tendencies, I was amazed to find out that from what I remember in Psychology, he is a textbook case of someone who has just lost a loved one. To investigate this further and find some solid information for everyone other than my memory of grade 12 Psych, I stumbled upon the Memorial Hospital web site and found exactly what I was looking for:

Five Stages Of Grief

  1. Denial and Isolation.

    At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer.

  2. Anger.

    The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if she’s dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.

  3. Bargaining.

    Now the grieving person may make bargains with God, asking, “If I do this, will you take away the loss?”

  4. Depression.

    The person feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath.

  5. Acceptance.

    This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of the loss.

Sound a little familiar? It should. Reread Order of the Phoenix, and you’’ll see that Harry goes through four of the five stages of death relatively quickly, in the span of two or three chapters.

Denial and Isolation

Though Harry doesn’’t really have time to feel isolated while he is in the Department of Mysteries, he definitely refuses to believe that Sirius has gone, as seen here: “”He did not believe it; he would not believe it… Lupin didn’’t understand……Lupin should stop pretending that Sirius……was not going to emerge at any moment, shaking back his dark hair, and eager to re-enter battle”” (pg. 712, Canadian edition). He struggles against Lupin’’s hold for a while before it actually hits him that Sirius is probably dead. Harry realizes that Sirius had never kept him waiting when he really needed him, and that if this was happening, “”the only possible explanation was that he could not come back…”” (pg. 712, Canadian edition).


Once the realization that Sirius is dead hits Harry, he is overcome by rage. He recklessly attacks Bella, completely willing to use the Cruciatus Curse on her, just to cause her as much pain as possible. Some people in the past have looked at this willingness to use an Unforgivable Curse as a warning sign, but I really don’’t think so. Harry always was prone to attacking and violence when someone hurts him (look at how he attacked Sirius in PoA when he thought Sirius had betrayed his parents). He lets his emotions control him, and acts without thinking when put in situations such as this one.

More importantly, however, is how he acts towards Dumbledore, his Headmaster, his mentor, the person he probably looks up to the most. I don’’t need to reiterate his screaming at the top of his lungs, his rage, and his throwing things around the room all willy nilly. I think we all remember that chapter pretty well. The point is, with nobody to really blame for Sirius’’ death except himself, Harry feels a displaced anger, and lashes out at Dumbledore for feeling so calm and collected. By the end of their discussion in the Headmaster’’s office (or rather, Dumbledore’s detailed explanation for the last 15 years of Harry’s life), Harry is no longer angry, merely filled with an all-consuming grief.


Now I know the next stage written above is Bargaining, but I really feel that JKR emphasizes Harry’’s grief more before bargaining than afterwards. It is also important to note that he still has a few surges of anger within him (how he acts towards Hagrid when he brings up Sirius), but as a teenage hormone-bomb, he was randomly angry all throughout the book, so it wasn’’t all that surprising. The grief Harry feels about Sirius is most obvious when he’’s sitting around the lake, dwelling (but trying not to) on Sirius. ““He sat there for a long time, gazing out at the water, trying not to think about his godfather…the sun had set before he realized that he was cold. He got up and returned to the castle, wiping his face on his sleeve as he went”” (pg. 754).


This stage was a little less direct than the others, but I think it was still there underneath Harry’’s actions. He definitely didn’’t bargain himself with God (unless I missed a big part of that ending), but Harry definitely found other ways to try and bring Sirius back to him. The mirror was his first attempt (though in his defence, I think all of us would have tried it as well), but obviously that didn’’t work. Then he tries to convince himself that Sirius would come back as a ghost. I think this was completely out of desperation, as the odds of someone coming back as a ghost (like Nick said) are slim to nil, and Harry should have realized it. He pointlessly argues and debates with Nick until he accepts that it isn’’t going to happen, and once again is filled with grief: “”Harry felt almost as though he had lost his godfather all over again in losing hope that he might see or speak to him once more. He walked slowly and miserably back up through the empty castle, wondering if he’’d ever feel cheerful again”” (pg. 759).


Harry does not feel any part of acceptance in Order of the Phoenix. It is far too soon and the loss of Sirius is still far too fresh for Harry to fully accept. I think how fast Harry comes to terms with Sirius’’ death depends on how much of a mature, strong individual he chooses to be. At the end of book five, Harry is not in a great place, emotionally or mentally. Though his grief is dominated in how he feels, denial, isolation, and anger are all still prominent in his actions. He avoids his friends, he avoids Hagrid, and he still is not able to control his emotions. Much of this can be attributed to the prophecy – Harry feels he’s a “marked man”; he’s isolated from those around him. To Harry, none of them could ever understand what he’s been through, what he has to go through –– so he separates himself from them. His actions are immature and desperate. He’s still playing the blame game, using Snape as a scapegoat for what happened to Sirius.

Something this huge in Harry’’s life will take a long time to come to grips with, and a summer with the Dursleys certainly won’’t help in the least. As for what we can expect from Harry in HBP, it depends. The way I see it, Harry can either continue to blame himself, Snape, and even Dumbledore, and keep himself isolated from those who care about him, or he an accept the situation for what it is, and go to those same people for help. Eventually I think he’’ll choose the latter. It’’s pretty much a given that Harry will have to prepare himself for what’’s coming, and much of that preparation will need Dumbledore. Dumbledore’’s no longer the infallible idol for Harry, no longer set on that pedestal he once held in the first four books. However, he’’s still an important part of Harry’’s life, and will be much needed for Harry’s development – magically and emotionally. Look for Hermione to be a source of help, info, and guidance (and also a big part of Harry’’s conscience); Ron for humour and support; and Dumbledore for information, comfort and strength – the combination of which should help Harry accept his loss and become a bigger person for it.