There are all kinds of grief, really. The dying kind. The losing the love of your life kind. The losing yourself kind (uh oh, danger danger, that’s a biggie, right?!). So in true-sassy-form, I asked some friends on my personal facebook page what they think about when they hear the word ‘grief’—and here’s what they said:
“It’s like feeling everything and nothing all at the same time.” –Barbara
“For years, I lied to myself believing if I was just good enough if I was willing to accept him warts and all, he would love me in return. When it ended abruptly and unexpectedly, I alternated between wanting to die and wanting to beat the crap out of him. Finally, after all these years, I understand that the death of conditional love was the beginning of loving myself.”—Eve
“Reminders of him were bittersweet and could bring on mood swings so quick they could cause whiplash.” –Kristin, on the loss of Randy
“It’s been a long time since I left that feeling behind. In the worst of it? I was isolated, disconnected from life and the world around me, groping in darkness, disbelief, despair over losing my best friend and the world I knew. I was functioning on autopilot Wow, so many emotions, but thank God I got through it.” –Kim
“Grief is the loss of companionship and interaction. We miss their face, their jokes, their ways. However, we overcome that and are left with memories that help to fill the void. My thoughts.” –Anne
“The memories hit at unexpected times, and are so sweet they bring tears. The memories then lead back to the loss, and the loss is new again and fresh and still as painful as ever.” –Angela (AJ)
“Don’t let others tell you that you need to get over it. The timetable of grief is different for everyone, and so is how it manifests itself.” –Stephanie
“I’ll confess that I have a hard time moving past the anger stage of grieving …” –Suzanne
“The loss of losing someone you love more than life is not the worst feeling in the world…but missing them for the rest of your life is.” –Kristi, on the loss of her twin sister Kara
“You see each challenge as a team challenge. It is not only overcoming for self but for the unit, the family. Then you realize the whole time you have been fighting to keep your head above water for the team, it was only you doing the fighting and dragging the other “team member” along. They were not only dead weight but they were actively putting obstacles in front of you to overcome. The busier you were kept fighting for survival, the easier they could keep their singular activities secret. Grief? Mind numbing, I just want to sleep and not wake up until the pain has lessened the grief. Sleepwalking through life, as a kind of functioning adult, but can’t remember what day it is or what I was supposed to do today.”–Kelly
“I am probably not the typical person that grieves. That being said, the grief for me came in the most unexpected times: the Pal’s sign that said: “Kiss your wife” or the first time I went grocery shopping alone because he did all the shopping and cooking. I had left the house just 10 minutes before his son found him unconscious. I think he thought he loved me more than I loved him, but I know I was the best wife up to 10 minutes before he died.” –Darla, on losing her husband unexpectedly
“Grief is losing a piece to your puzzle, leaving you with the feeling that you’ll never be whole again. Nothing fills that void. Nothing.” –Alli, reflecting on the loss of her husband Chad
I think the biggest lie in the world is that time heals all wounds and I’ve come to experience that myself. We all grieve, no doubt, but after all the losses I experienced in such a short amount of time, I think I should at least have a medal to show for it. Loss, unfortunately, became my normal in April 2015 when my friend Erik took his life and when Randy died nearly 7 months later, then Kara 2 months after that, I think I had become so numb to the shock of death that I started asking myself whose funeral I would be going to next. In fact, that little lacy black dress still has the dry-cleaning tags on it from Kara’s service, ready and waiting for the next one.
During the initial stages of grief, our houses are flooded with people offering words of comfort and there’s usually so much food that the refrigerator can’t possibly hold it all. And those same people are there for the visitation and the graveside services, but yet the day after our dead are buried and all the funeral notices disappear from the obituary page in the newspaper, our homes and hearts are empty with nothing but ourselves and the memories we desperately try to hold onto so that we don’t have to let go just yet. People say life goes on, and it does, whether we want it to or not—but just because it keeps moving, doesn’t necessarily mean we do. For so many of us who have lost those we love, the world seems to come to a complete and utter halt. Have you noticed that, too?
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a well-known Swiss psychiatrist, describes her model of the five stages of grief in this manner:
Denial helps us cope with the grief and it includes feelings of numbness and being overwhelmed. I, myself, refer to this stage as “survival mode”. For example, when my mother died unexpectedly, my former husband woke me up in the early hours of the morning to tell me that she had passed in her sleep. I immediately went into shock because I had just spoken to her the day before. My childhood best friend, Melanie called me crying to tell me how sorry she was. My response? “It’s okay, Mel…really…she doesn’t sleep well and she’s just deep asleep. This is all a mistake. Please don’t cry.” Denial is a strong coping mechanism, indeed. In fact, until I stepped off the plane in Tennessee and saw my entire family waiting for me–everyone but my mother, of course–I really believed it was not real. It was the day before my 30th birthday, and birthdays haven’t ever been the same since because Mom made a very big deal out of my birthday. Three weeks later, when I returned to my home in Mississippi, a vase of dead flowers was sitting on my doorstep. They were from my mother and they had been delivered hours after we had boarded the plane for her funeral. I will never, ever forget the pain I felt in that moment, knowing I would never share a birthday celebration with her again.
Anger is pretty self-explanatory. It’s not uncommon to get angry at the person who died (how could you have left me?, what were you thinking?, why didn’t you see a doctor when you knew something wasn’t right?, why didn’t you think enough of your family to prepare a will?) The anger stage is rather uncomfortable, but it’s a powerful place to be when you’re grieving because it allows the healing to begin. When Erik died, I experienced more depression than anger initially, but as reality set in, I found myself becoming very angry at him for the choice he made. I don’t experience much anger toward him presently, but every now again, it does hit me when I see his widowed wife, who is my best friend, grieving for him in the ways she does.
Bargaining is that sad “if only” stage…if only I had insisted that you see a doctor…if only I had treated you better…if only you had come to me I could have helped you and you would still be alive today. As humans, we bargain anything and everything to try to raise the dead so our lives will be complete again. Bargaining isn’t a bad stage to be in, however, because bargaining often leads to us being able to start leaning toward accepting what has happened. For me, when I think of the bargaining stage, I think about Kara, and the first thing that comes to mind is that she had asked me for months to get together and go out for margaritas, which we both loved. Because I was in school full time, and drowning in research papers and homework, I didn’t make time for that. When she died suddenly, all I could think was that school work could have waited and that if I had only made time for her, I wouldn’t feel as guilty as I did for not seeing her when I could have. I even made comments to myself about if God would just give her back, I would spend every moment I could with her when she asked. Time…time waits for no one. (Kara, I miss you and your funny text messages all the time, just so you know. I still have yet to be able to bring myself to delete them from my phone).
Depression. Ah, that big ugly word! With any kind of loss, we all experience the depression stage. While this stage often feels like it will last forever, it won’t. My therapist Sybil describes it best: feelings are only that, and they come and then they pass. It’s completely normal to become depressed when we lose people we love, jobs we enjoyed, or relationships we came to feel at home in. Depression is an appropriate stage to be in, and if a person does not experience this stage, it would be unusual. In this stage, it isn’t uncommon to reach out to friends, find a support group with weekly meetings, or seek medical advice if the fog doesn’t seem to lift. I don’t have to tell you anything about how I suffer from depression when I experience a loss of any sort–you read my blog, and you know already.
Accepting what has happened is the stage where we recognize that things have changed and that it won’t ever be the same as it was before. It’s the stage where we begin to find our new normal and it doesn’t mean that everything is right with the world or that what happened is okay. What it does mean is that life goes on, whether we move with it or not. The time comes where we say to ourselves “okay, this happened, and I survived it”. We begin to find joy in life again and we find ourselves becoming involved with our friends after hibernating to grieve. When Randy died, I almost could not accept it, as his death was also sudden. Just hours before he coded and never woke up again, we were setting up a tentative time to have a coffee date at the hospital because we both loved Starbucks. The doctors were only allowing him to have ice chips and water, but he was relishing the moment they would allow him to have coffee. That text of “Yay, I can have it, bring it!” never came, but I am grateful for all the coffee dates and conversations we had during the years before his death. It is what it is…
Death finds us all eventually, as unfortunate as that is. Randy posted the photo below on his facebook page just mere months before he died. I find the fact that he did that to be very profound, really, and it describes in detail exactly how the stages of grief play out:
While I agree with the photo that Randy posted, I don’t know that grief is so linear and pretty for everybody. For myself, coping with grief looks more like this:
I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences things in this way because as I’ve said before, grief is messy! And just because you go through each of the stages of grief doesn’t mean you go through them in order. It’s actually very common to bounce back and forth between all the stages before acceptance becomes the reality, so be patient with yourself when that happens. Grief is different for everybody, and each person grieves in their own way and on their own timing. There is no magic potion to see us through it—it’s one day at a time, one minute at a time, and sometimes, even one second at a time. And if you find you can’t get through it alone? You can always find yourself a Sybil.
See y’all next week!