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Michael Jackson and The Five Stages of Grief: Acceptance

8 July 2009 18 Comments


Last week I told myself that Michael Jackson’s memorial service would be the event to push me into the acceptance stage. Once I saw his golden casket and his brothers lined up in tribute I accepted that he is really gone. Here we are at the end of the line, and although theoretically the stages of grief can occur in any order and even cycle back and forth on top of themselves, acceptance is where we have to stay. It’s not an easy thing to do, but everytime I’m tempted to fall back into sadness, anger, or denial I focus on doing the following:

Remember The Luxury of Passive Grieving. I’m a big softie anyway, so Stevie Wonder singing “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer,” always makes me cry, memorial service or not. But what I didn’t expect was Michael’s daughter Paris telling the world how much she loved her father breaking my heart even more. This pretty little girl cemented the fact that my grief over the untimely loss of an icon is minuscule compared to the grief that his family must feel. I refuse to imagine myself in her shoes or in the shoes of anyone in the Jackson family – its just too painful. We all have the luxury to not deal with this loss directly because our lives are not directly affected, and the Jackson family is fantastic for allowing us the chance to be a part of saying goodbye to Michael. At this point, accepting that Michael Jackson is gone and letting him rest is the best gift we can give to those who knew him best.

Cherish The Memories. Michael Jackson is part of my best childhood memories, but since his death I look back at the old days with a touch of sadness. Accepting that he’s really passed on means that those memories need to go back to the sparkling, happy moments that they really were. Who didn’t dance around their living room wearing one glove – probably a winter glove, but a glove nonetheless? Who doesn’t have a memory connected to one of Micheal’s masterpieces or, for those of us who were lucky enough, remember listening to screaming fans or even being one of them at a concert? Who didn’t try to Moonwalk or do the Smooth Criminal lean to no avail? Those beautiful memories are the same whether Michael Jackson is with us or not, and it’s time for us to appreciate having had those experiences instead of letting those memories make us sad.

Let Life Go On. Did you know that my favorite unhinged black woman, Cynthia McKinney, was kidnapped last week? Or that American troops withdrew from Baghdad? There’s also a heath care vote coming up that could change our lives, and it looks like the Northeast Corridor is finally getting some summer weather. Many of us have become obsessed with watching videos and listening to music and sacrficed our own greatness in the process! There are dozens of things I should write about besides Michael Jackson, and as much as I’d love to indulge myself by dwelling on my favorite black pop culture icon EVER I’ll just allow WWTD to always remain a safe space for all things Michael and stay well-rounded from this point forward.


Do Something. Whenever I’m feeling blue I just get some airbrushed nails – yes those are my fat little fingers above, right hand representing the glove and left hand a total tribute to his legacy. When the last rhinestone falls off it’s probably time to move on, but looking at them everyday makes me happy that there even WAS a Michael Jackson. Likewise, I’ve heard of people getting tattoos or giving to charity, and of course pretty much all of us have been on a steady binge of Michael Jackson tunes and videos. I’ve been rediscovering and discovering the music of Michael and The Jacksons and it’s been a cleansing but joyful journey. If you haven’t yet, make sure to indulge yourself in what we do have left – the music and the moves. Find a Michael Jackson tribute party and dance as hard as you can or just do it in your bedroom alone and once you’re done, move on. It’s very necessary.

Stop Watching. I haven’t watched this much cable news since the 2008 election, and now that the details of Michael Jackson’s will and memorial have been exposed I’m not going to watch anymore. Miko Brando needs to go back to playing soduku or whatever it is he does with his free time besides appear on “Larry King Live.” The “experts” and “family associates” will have to fade into the background, and the commentators will have to stop their speculation on who gets the kids, how Michael died, and everything in between. Aside from the upcoming autopsy report, the discussions have become unnecessarily sensational and there is nothing else we need to hear. Michael Jackson deserves more respect than that, and those of us who really cared about Michael and his legacy have to be the ones to drive that respect. Most importantly, we can’t waste energy and outrage responding to hateful nonsense spouted by the same racist politicians and commentators who’ve had too much opinion on all things black for years like clockwork. People like Bill O’Reilly EXIST to make us outraged, so let’s not fall into the trap of turning Michael Jackson’s death into the burden of explaining racial dynamics to America yet again. None of this helps us to accept our loss.

Remember His Legacy. Michael Jackson’s memorial was a true homegoing, one of the most beautiful aspects of African-American culture. Instead of hanging our heads in sorrow we had the chance to celebrate everything that Michael meant to the community and bid him farewell with the belief that he’s moved on to a better place. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, it’s impossible to deny the beauty in the pleasure of having had this man here on earth and that is what acceptance is really about. He felt closer to us as an American and as a black American, but even the smallest villiage in Tanzania with nothing more than a water pump and a transistor radio had Michael Jackson, too. I thank him for firmly anchoring pop culture to black American traditions of dance, song, and language, and praise him as a humanitarian and inspiration to the world. That is the legacy that Michael Jackson leaves behind, and that – not the loss – is what we need to hold onto forever.

Throwback Video: Michael Jackson dances with The Nicholas Brothers

Previous: Part 4 of 5, “Michael Jackson and The Five Stages of Grief: Depression”

Your comments are always appreciated!


  • DJStylus said:

    Thanks, counselor.

    I feel like I should have to pay for the privilege.

  • ill Mami said:

    It wasn’t until Stevie sang that it all finally hit me. Hard. Then the tears just flooded my face harder than when I learned that he had died.

    I guess you could say I’m in the acceptance phase, because we were all privy to a Black funeral which was so expertly done, and made me feel so included. I want to thank the Jackson family for allowing all of us to be a part of that. We all needed closure, too. Especially us Black folks. But a part of me just can’t accept that he’s gone just yet.

    I’m still a bit numb and blindsided by the whole ordeal, even almost 2 weeks after his death.

    Thank you, Thembi, for trying to help us all make sense out of a terrible situation.

  • J. P. de Grisogono said:

    Watching Paris proclaiming her love for her dad made me see MJ in a new light. I’ve realized how Michael really loved the children just as Jesus loved being with the children.

  • gianni said:

    MJ’s death has really been devastating. Plus the fact that it was so sudden. Indeed, he is a legend. I’m past Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression.. so I think I am on that “acceptance” stage too. It’s true, the stages can cycle back, but acceptance is where we have to stay. I am just glad to say that he has been a huge part of me too.

    Farewell Michael Jackson.

    You will surely be missed.

    Thank you so much thembi for this post. 😀

  • Janet said:

    I’ve never grieved for someone like I have grieved Michael. My family knows me as pretty tough on the outside – someone who doesn’t cry easily and from what they say “coldhearted”. I actually only cry if I see animal abuse and every time I watch A Little Princess. Even so, there has been a deluge of tears. MJ has been a big part of my childhood, and when he died, it was like part of that child died. There are plenty of iconic artists who I grew up listening to but few if any have captured my heart like Michael did. You really get a sense that he had a pure, good heart and thats what makes it so devastating. He was a good guy! Right now I’m still lingering between depression and acceptance.

  • TwistedBliss said:

    Thank you so much for these posts. They were very good reads and helped me cope. I actually accepted it 2 days after he died, I went through denial the day he died, than got mad, bargained and depressed the day after. I accepted that he wad dead, but for the two weeks afterward what I couldn’t accept was that it was happening, I never thought I would see this until I was at least 40 or something. After the memorial, it hit me that it had happened, and I fully accepted it.

    Once again, thank you for these posts.

  • jai said:

    Hi Thembi, I had been looking for heartful, conscious, righteously angry and pure loving commentary on the life of MJ and I found it here on this, my first time visit to your blog.

    I am thankful for you sharing these thoughts, and God how I wish he had joined you in Barbados.. but life is strange and cruel and glorious and full of unexpected labyrinths, as well as the ones we help create for ourselves; and I am sure he is shining from another realm now and feeling the love all the way from here.

    May our hearts continue to hold dear and emulate in our own way that special soul who had so much desire to love and who loved so compassionately; and may we continue to work towards, as the Zapatistas say, “a world in which many worlds can fit”, the kind of world that MJ dreamed of.

  • Mary said:

    Reading your articles have been cathartic for me. I still cannot explain why MJ’s death has effected me so greatly. I could understand it more if I had been an raving fan, a groupie, someone who went to all his concerts and bought all of his albums. But I’ve only been to one J5 concert in my life and (prior to his death) I’d only bought 3 or 4 of his albums.

    I did grow up with his music but I kind of lost track of him somewhere after “Bad” and the repeated plastic surgeries. But now I am regretting it deeply because I’ve been rediscovering his music, his talent and for the first time gaining some insight on who he was as a human being. It grieves me more to know that I didn’t fully appreciate him while he was here.

  • LJS said:

    Girl, I love your posts- and I am all kinds of pasty white and I am right there with you guys. The thing is, it is August now- and even though I, too, had to force myself off the coverage because of the sensational BS (well, and I just had to GET A LIFE- haha), just when I think I have hit “acceptance” of this, I get right back into the despair of it all & start boohooing again (and I don’t think there is anything MJ-related left for me to buy on amazon- dayam!). I am angry at people- I am angry at our society. I am angry that my very favorite magazine did a recap of MJ’s death and I read what Bob Herbert wrote about him- and what people are still saying about him. I am angry that we can continue to tear down such a beautiful soul. I am pissed. He deserves more than this. I am down on people- I feel like surrounding myself with chimps, giraffes and kids right now – I get that about him- people are assholes. I feel oddly guilty for not being more involved or present during his trial and during the last 10 years of his career- that sounds so queer- but I feel it- I really feel it. Rest in peace, sweet Michael. Thanks, Thembi for your MJ posts. I really really love them.

  • IH said:

    LJS glad to see I’m not the only one still looking up Michael Jackson stuff in August- occasionally now, not so much anymore. (haha) I too feel it, I really do. I am in the acceptance, but sometimes still sad stage and literally had to make myself say goodbye, through crying tears, of course. (I’m such a freak!) I just had to accept that I was grieving for the loss of someone who seemed like family but who I never really met… It made me feel better when I was talking to an acquaintance at a get together and we sheepishly admitted how sad and weird we felt about MJ passing away. When we compared ages and realized we are both 37, we both looked at each other and knew, we just knew– we were Thriller kids. Such a magic time for us back then (Thembi your words are so true)– Michael Jackson was truly magic from the voice to the moves to the glove. There was nothing before that. We didn’t just sing Michael Jackson, we were Michael Jackson and believe me, to all of us singing in the playground, that kid was not our son! I truly believe he taught a whole generation of kids how to sing and dance- it was part of our identity back then and all of this has made our childhood come back to us. I feel guilty that I became a judgmental little teenager and started to lose sight of him around Bad when his looks started to change. (Why didn’t I see how smoking HOT he was??) But I still loved his music, went out of my way to watch the premiere of his videos, even as it became more uncomfortable to watch the uninhibited emotions he expressed in his art. He bared his soul like no one else did, especially in the late 80′ and 90’s. In old interviews I now see the beautiful, thoughtful soul that I never knew and I’m so glad I now know more of the real him. Also rediscovering a lot of music and man, Michael Jackson was an incredible composer. Well, apologies for being so rambly but I guess this is as cathartic for me as much as anything. Thembi, THANK-YOU SO MUCH for your thoughts and for giving us this forum to commiserate. Let’s face it, we all know that these internet comments are like group therapy. So many words have rung true to so many people. There will ALWAYS be a place in my heart for Michael and I still dearly miss him.

  • Peaches said:

    I’m a newbie to your site and just wanted to say thank you for your wonderfully written commentary/tribute to Michael Jackson, my favorite music artist. You covered all areas that we as fans already knew about Michael and some unknown. I’m certain I will become a regular visitor of your site. Keep up the good work.

  • Marilia said:

    I found your site and I want to thank you for having a place where (we) Michael’s fans feel comfortable and accepted and not to mention normal for mourning our ultime fave man.I am a 39 year old mom who has been a #1 fan of MJ ever since I discovered him in the early 80’s.I was 13 when I first saw him on MTV.I was mesmarized and instantly in love with him and everything about him.I became an instant #1 fan and even though and perhaps because he was 10 years older then me I dreamed of marrieng him one day.I loved his looks,moves,charm and his little voice I thought was soo sexy. I especailly loved his shy and quite self and how he would transform on stage or video to the greatest show man was amazing.I thought he was a genious and very tallented.He also looked like the sweetest guy in the world. I loved the fact that he was so humbled and gave credit to God alot and mention how God was very important to him.He also had so much love for animals,children and helping others.He loved his family and his fans.I loved that he was always saying I love you or love you more to his fans and for that alone i loved him.I had everything of MJ growing up,from posters all over my bedroom wall to his thriller jacket and pants.I even had the one glove. I had all his records.I would buy any magazine with him on it even if it was just a litte picture of him on it.I nagged my mom if I saw anything of hiS to buy it for me.I played his music soo loud that I drove my parents crazy.My sisters loved him too but I was the one that was a fanitic with MJ. He was my biggest crush.He was also my first kiss-i would kiss his posters,LOL. I remembered I would get mad if anyone said anything bad about him or if they said they didn’t like him.I would’t even be freinds with anyone who didn’t share my love for my MJ.SO as you can see I was so devasted when he died.I cryed and continue to cry whenever it hits me that he is really gone.I felt like a big part of my childhood along with a part of me died with him.I am deffinatly in the shocked and deppressed stage right now.I don’t think i’ve really accept it yet.I have been following all the coverage of his investegation even though i don’t like all the crap they keep on saying about him.I want that doctor of his along with anyone who enabled him by kept giving him those prescription drugs that lad to his dead to go to jail.I’m not at all mad at Michael because he went through so much in his life especailly when he was put through that whole nightmare of the child molistation case and how the police treated him then compounded with the way his father abused him as a child and never had a childhood then with his health problems like his viligo,lupus and the pains he still had from the 1983 pepsi commercial when he brunt his hair and got 3rd degree burns and lost parts of his hair.He still suffered pains in his head from that and that’s why he took the painkillers,but got hoocked.I think people who loved him should have tried harder to save him and maybe right now we would still have him and most importantly his kids would’t have to loose their daddy and be left so young.I pray for his kids and the whole Jackson family,freinds and his fans too.I love MJ and I will miss his influence on us.Thank you Michael for the memories!R.I.P,my sweet!I will see you up in Heaven one day! Good bye 4 now,Our angel!!!

  • Marilia said:

    Oh I wanted to add also that Michael truely was the best. HE WAS AN ICON.He broke the racial barriar.He gave us a chance to dream and make the impossible possible. When I saw Michael though, I saw him not his color.I was very proud of him for being the first black man to be on MTV and for being successful and well grounded and a possitive influence to his race,but most importantly I saw him for the man he was not his color. He was also soo damm fine. I am mixed,but I like to be seen not just by my skin tone but as a person.I personally believe that God gave him viligo to say to Michael and especailly to say to everyone That it doesn’t matter if he is black or white because he is still the same person inside.Michael was trying to teach us that we need to love someone for who they are not how they look.I believe God gave us Michael to show us love and how to not think so much of the outside apperence but to look inside and love them first. In Michael’s own words he said before you judge me try hard to love me first.I believe he was always sexy anyways.I also believe he could have very well been an angel lent to us just for a while but because we treathed him soo bad God took him back.I for one never thought there was anything wrong with him as the world saw.Like al sherpan said at his memorial to his kids that there weren’t nothing wrong with your daddy-it was strange what your daddy had to go through or something amoung those lines. It was perfect what he said because I always thought the same.He was like no other and he had such a kind soul.My only regrets about my MJ is that I am having a hard time grieving him for I always wanted to meet him one day and now i never will and that is what really hurts.I wanted to meet him and give him the biggest hug and let him know that he was perfect just the way he was and that God loves him and so do I. I wanted him to see how beautifull he was to(us fans) and that he needed no explaination to us because we love him already and believe in him.What makes me mad is that MJ DESERVES SO MUCH MORE RESPECT AND LOVE THEN HE EVER GOT FROM THE WORLD.He gave his all and what thanks that the world or the media gave him? THEY TARED HIM DOWN AND DESTROYED HIM UNTILL HE COULDN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE.We never know what we got untill it’s gone and now people are starting to see that,but still he has not been shown the respect even in his death that he deserved.He was not meant for this world.The thing is we all say how we want to change the world and make it a better place like Michael says in his song but we don’t know how to appreciate when someone like him comes along.He was a great humenatarian too.He gave over $300 million to charities and to help countless kids and so on and so on.Do you ussually hear that? NO,all the negetives and the lies you do.It’s always been like that but it needs to change.He truely was especial and we need to always remember that and let his legacy live on AND LET HIM R.I.P FOR HE DESERVES IT! Love you Michael!sleep with the angels now baby!You r 4 ever in my heart!R.I.P!!

  • Danielle said:

    I stumbled on your website a couple of days ago and I just want to say thank you, Thembi. Thank you for your sensitivity, your warmth, your humor and for just being real. I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been as upset as I’ve been (hence still looking up things about him in August) and your posts helped me understand my feelings a little better. They also helped me remember that life goes on, that it’s okay to that I felt sad but that it’s more important to celebrate the fact that he lived at all. That he accomplished what he accomplished. That we have such a vast amount of songs and videos we can listen to, look at and cherish.

    So that’s what I’ve been doing. Reacquainting myself with his music, dancing in my room to as many Jackson 5/Jacksons/Michael Jackson albums as I can dig up from my collection and from iTunes. It’s helped a lot and I think I’ll soon be at the point where I’m happier he lived than I am sad that he’s gone.

  • Sally said:

    THANK YOU for your wisdom and clarity, and for helping me to respect my grief over Michael’s passing. I was in my early 40s when Thriller came out, so I missed most of Michael’s career as it was unfolding, but I happened to see him on some TV special around 2001 and it was love at first sight. When he died I was compelled to watch, listen, and read everything I could find connected with him and it has been two months of delight, discovery, and tears. The world is a much poorer place without him in it. Your writing puts words to my feelings. Thank you also for including the great videos.

  • Wendy said:

    I wasn’t a fan, never went to a concert, never bought any music,lived on a boat in the 70’s, no TV, went to college in the 80’s, no time for MTV..yet his death brought me to my knees..as if something really precious and good is gone. I do not understand this reaction at all. Now I am watching his videos, crying all the time. This is not me at all…perhaps it is the suddenness, at a young age, at the hands of a MD, leaving children orphaned.

  • Bobdobb said:

    Thank you Thembie for a great article.

    I was devasted by MJ’s death. As Sally said graciously, the world will indeed by a poorer place without him and his music.

    RIP Michael.

  • April said:

    Congratulations on winning a Black Weblog Award! I just read this series of posts, and the honor is truly deserved.

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