In 2000, when I took my first mediation training class, my teacher discussed the five stages of loss and grief first proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. The particular training course I was attending focused on divorce mediations and so the stages were relevant because of the loss and grief suffered by the parties in a divorce.

The five stages are denial and isolation; anger; bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Denial: Our first reaction to hearing something bad is to “deny the reality of the situation.” We try to rationalize the situation away.

Anger: As the reality of the situation slowly sets in, so does the pain. We are not ready to deal with it and become angry over the situation

Bargaining: We all like to be in control and being confronted with a situation over which we have no control upsets us. So, we try to gain control by bargaining, hoping to postpone what we know will surely happen.

Depression: We begin to absorb the reality of the situation and become filled with sadness and regret, preparing ourselves for what we know is soon to occur.

Acceptance: We accept what is occurring and cope with it. We allow ourselves to feel the feelings and the emotions associated with the loss so that we can live through it and perhaps past it and move on.

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While the above stages were proposed with “death and dying” in mind, I have found (as a mediator) that not only do they apply to a divorce, but to any sort of litigation. When a dispute arises, at first we deny it is happening, and then we get angry about the situation, trying to bargain our way out of it, eventually getting depressed over it and then accepting the situation and attempting to cope with it by attending mediation, with the hope of settling it.

I mention this topic because it hits home. Last year, we decided to remodel our condo and hired a general contractor to do so. After too many months for it to be completed, the project is essentially done. But, alas- while we have paid him for all of the work, he has failed to pay some of the sub contractors.

When we first learned that some of the sub contractors had not been paid, we did not want to face the reality of the situation. Not that we were in denial that they had not been paid; we just did not want to deal with it and believed that it was simply not “our” problem. We were in denial that it was “our” problem.

Then, anger slowly set in; as lawyers we both soon realized that under the mechanics lien laws in California, even though we have paid the general contractor, we could still be on the hook to the sub-contractors. We could have to pay twice! Boy… were we angry… it is not printable what we were thinking or cursing.

So, next came the bargaining. I called the sub contractors in question in an attempt to work out a deal to get them paid, to prevent them from filing liens against our condo. To some extent, I was successful. But, they still wanted to be paid… and soon. And our contractor was flat broke because he had used our money to pay on another job and that other job now refused to pay him. He could not even cover a check for a few hundred dollars.

So depression set in. We had to cover these debts, and now twice and we had to take action against the contractor. We had every indication that he would not have the money to pay these people anytime soon and so could not simply wait out the situation, hoping and praying for the best (“denial”?).

With sadness and regret, I contacted the contractor’s surety company (In California, each general contractor is required to have a surety bond.) and asked for a claim form. I filled it out and with great reluctance and after much discussion with my husband about whether we should do it, I hit the “send” button to e mail the .pdf version into the bonding company. The contractor is a nice guy, but as my husband says, we are not his bank.

I accepted the situation … we are on the hook for this money and we do not want to pay twice. As much as I do not want to go against the bond, we see no alternative as the sub contractors insist on being paid sooner rather than later and the law says we are- at bottom- responsible.

The five stages… they apply to everyday life.

…. Just something to think about.

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