Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist noted for her studies of mourning, grief and death which she presented in her pioneering text On Death and Dying. Her research, primarily anecdotal but with many participants, indicated that people who are in mourning tend to go through a series of five steps or stages on the way toward anticipating, handling and resolving the pain of losing a loved one. Kubler-Ross presented the five stages in a specific order but was careful to indicate that not everyone goes through all five stages. Many individuals who suffer a loss go through the stages in a different sequence than the one she presented and some individuals can get emotionally stuck at any one of the five steps. Being stuck can result in even more pain.

Kubler-Ross’s stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. In the denial stage someone experiencing a loss cannot accept the passing or imminent death of their loved one and keeps refusing to accept the reality of the death. In the anger stage the bereaved seems to be able to handle the loss only by lashing out, even randomly, at any person or object. There is just so much intense rage as a result of the loss that it seems that they can never move on. Bargaining is a stage that emerges when the mourner attempts to make a deal with god or fate to have the deceased person return or somehow become an atonement of sorts. Typically all mourners show signs of a negative mood or actual depression which is the fourth of the steps. In the final stage the mourner comes to grips with their loss and develops a feeling of solace or, as Kubler-Ross called it, acceptance, so that they may move on emotionally with their lives.

With the loss of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel, it appears that the entire Jewish people are in a form of mourning. Theirs was not simply a botched abduction theirs was a cold-hearted murder. We kept praying and hoping for their return. The fate of the three boys grabbed all of our attention and hope. We all feel part of their families. No one was prepared for the tragic news that we received. This sort of unexpected, sudden and traumatic loss, where there is no anticipation, no preparation, can result in severe trauma for survivors. This kind of loss can cause us all to react without thinking, reflexively with intense emotions.

In the Kubler-Ross framework, we cannot be in denial over their deaths, we know the three are gone, and as a result we are angry and depressed. We are certainly not yet ready for acceptance, we need to go through the steps to get there. There are, however, those I have spoken with who are in the bargaining stage, hoping that their deaths will lead to atonement, for what we do not know. Emotionally and psychologically all of this is reasonable, understandable even necessary. But, only to a point.

Denial is not a justification for vigilantism. If it turns out that 17 year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was killed in revenge then his was also a terrible murder. No matter how deep someone is in the stage of anger there can be no excusing regressive antisocial behaviors. This is not to say that the murderers of the three teens, their planners and those who helped them carry it out should not be brought to justice. They should and must. But, there can never be any justification for random retribution. Those few individual on both sides who foment hatred can cause us only more loss, and anger. If we are ever going to get to the stage of solace and psychological acceptance we cannot allow non-law-abiding individuals to cause increasing psychological pain by their impulsivity and hatred. At some point it becomes our responsibility to distance ourselves from the vigilantes and fight for acceptance.