Death, Divorce, the Loss of a job, or the Loss of a relationship or a loved one all share one thing in common: GRIEF. No matter whom you are, how old you are, where you live, whether you are rich or poor, no matter your religious affiliation or the color of your skin, every one of us has suffered GRIEF at some point in our lives. The death of a family member, the death of a marriage or romantic relationship, losing a job unexpectedly, even the death of the family pet causes grief. It doesn’t matter how it happened, how long you knew it was coming, how sick they may have been, when loss comes, grief comes in like an overwhelming flood. Every emotion you have ever felt rises to the surface and you hurt inside to the marrow of your bones. Your first thought is you will not survive it, you’ll never overcome it, and you scream, yell, cry, beg, plead, blame and think you are not going to get out of the horrible pain you are feeling.
Grief is a part of the cycle of life and it is the part of it most of us do not understand, much less know how to cope with it. The fundamental source of grief is our “fear of death”. We know that we have heard about Heaven and Hell for years, but do we believe they really exist? Is there life outside this body of ours, or do we just go back to dust and there is nothing more? When our pain is so great, it is no wonder we plead with God to die as well. Something so dear and so precious has been snatched from us and we want answers. And we want them NOW!!!! We do not want to hurt, to feel the pain so searing we don’t think our heart can bear it. Sometimes we feel nothing at first, we are almost numb. Then when we do start to feel the pain and loss, we often don’t know how to cope with it or our emotions.
In Drs. Kübler-Ross and Kessler’s book, “On Grief and Grieving,” they introduced to the world the now-famous five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. These are all part of the process and until you reach the acceptance stage, it is possible to go back and forth from one stage to another or be in several of these stages at the same time. No two people grieve alike and no one should encourage someone in grief to “get over it”. Platitudes and well meaning phrases mean nothing. In fact, some of the worst offenders of these are family and friends. Because people do grieve differently, they should be allowed to grieve in their own way, and to let the process run its course.
On rare occasions, someone’s grief is so great they shut everyone else out of their life and begin to build a shrine or memorial to their lost loved one. To a certain degree this is normal, but if it looks disproportionate, someone should step up to the plate and suggest grief counseling. Usually in this circumstance, a counselor/advisor will usually find that the death or loss was the catalyst for deeper buried emotions that suddenly rushed to the surface and they could not get a grasp on reality for awhile.
As always, time alone is healing and in due season the grieving process will be completed and the hidden clutter will go away too. It is important to remember that at the moment you are grieving, it is your pain, not the pain of someone else’s experience that helps you. It is a journey you must walk out by yourself even if you have a good support group of loving friends and family to surround you with their love. Just as each of us is different, so is our grieving process, so do not expect your grief to be like mine and do not judge me if you think I am not grieving right. The five stages make up a part of the coping with the lost of a loved one; they are tools to help us identify our feelings and emotions. Everyone goes through them all nor do they go through them in a prescribed order. They are stages through which we gain knowledge of the hold grief has on us, making us better equipped to cope with life and with loss.
Being in a state of denial is the first stage of grieving. An overwhelming feeling of numbness engulfs us, and we don’t seem to feel anything. Nothing makes any sense. There is a combination of feeling helpless, hopeless and wanting to die on the one hand, and on the other hand, it’s all so surreal, it’s like a nightmare and we can’t wake up. At times the reality slips to the surface and we have to remind ourselves to breathe, we exist from second to second, then minute to minute, until we realize this is like being in a bubble and we can’t feel anything inside the bubble, we function in disbelief, shock and denial. Being inside the bubble is a coping mechanism that kicks in to help us cope with our grief. As long as the bubble remains, we somehow get through the loss and pain. This is a good thing; it is the body’s way of letting us get through the roughest spots as easily as possible. We somehow appear to “be holding up great” to others, when actually we are in total denial and sooner or later, someone or something sticks a pin in the bubble and it leaks. This is when we start to really begin to feel the pain of our loss, to question why, and blame everyone and everything, even God for causing us so much hurt. It is not a rapid process, but sooner than later, pin after pin pierces our bubble until we are back in the real world again and the pain is overwhelming. This is the beginning of the healing process even though we don’t see it that way. We don’t want to hurt or feel, we want the bubble back, but to fully recover from grief, the bubble must be broken for us to move forward and those feelings of denial will now begin to surface.
Anger almost always follows the bursting of the bubble of denial. We are angry that our grief hurts, our loss is real, it isn’t a bad dream, it really happened. Anger is a necessary part of the healing process. No matter how long it seems to take you to get through it, anger needs to be released, not bottled up inside. The sooner you can get rid of your anger, the sooner it will all be released and you will begin to heal faster. Your whole world just changed and so has everyone around you. Being angry can be healthy if you direct it into the center of the storm of your pain rather than try to play the blame game. There isn’t a conspiracy going on around you, it is the natural order of change as a result of your loss that is happening. Embrace the change and let your anger keep you focused on the real reason you are hurting. The anger you are feeling is usually directed at doctors, family, friends, your loved one, and even toward yourself. You feel abandoned, rejected, deserted and you lash out at those closest to you. Again, while this is considered normal, and it is a part of the process of healing from grief, try not to be angry at those around you; rather, be angry at the cancer, the divorce, the loss of income, whatever it is that caused you this much grief, agony and pain and totally focus your energies on being angry at that. Normally, we learn more about suppressing anger than feeling it, but in a situation of grief and intense pain, it needs to be released. Anger is another indication of how much you truly and deeply loved.
We want life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored. We want to go back in time: find the tumor sooner, recognize the illness more quickly, and stop the accident from happening. Before the loss, you make offers to do anything if only your loved one would be spared. “Please God, “you bargain, I will never be angry at my wife again if you’ll just let her live.” After a loss, we renegotiate our position with statements like: “What if I spend the rest of my life helping others and when I wake up I will realize this has all been a bad dream?” We plow through all the “If only.” or “What ifs.” plea bargains. This is usually when guilt becomes bargaining’s best friend. While we are in the “if only” phase, guilt steps in and causes us to find fault in ourselves and second guess what we “think” we could have done differently. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We try to negotiate our way out of the hurt. There is nothing you can do to go back in time. Bargaining serves its purpose in the healing process, but bargains are usually never kept or realized. Each of these stages of grief are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours days or weeks, even months while we feel like we are on a roller coaster going in and out of one stage and then another. The stages of grief are different for everyone, some of them lasting weeks or months. We tend to forget that these stages are responses to feelings that we have at different times, places, there is no set schedule or duration of feelings and time. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in an orderly fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one. Our emotions are out of balance and it’s like riding a roller coaster, up, down, around, up again and down again over and over until it is a finished work.
When our bargaining efforts prove fruitless, we start thinking about our present situation. An emptiness and aloneness becomes unbearable and grief enters our lives on a deeper level than we ever imagined. Depression moves in and it feels as though it will last forever. This depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We often withdraw from life, feel like we are in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in even trying to start over when it could possibly end the same way. Why go through it all again? Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of. The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. If we did not experience depression after a loved one dies it would be truly an unusual situation and one would wonder about that. When the realization that your loved one didn’t get better this time and is not coming back is understandably depressing. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps we have to take along the way.
Acceptance is not the concept of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people never feel “OK” or “all right” about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this is the permanent reality we have to live with. We will never like this reality and it will never OK, but eventually we learn to accept it and live with it. We have to try to live now in a world where our loved one is missing. At first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died. In time, however, we see that we cannot keep living in the past. Our past has been forever changed and we must learn how to live with the change. We have to learn how to start living again. It isn’t easy, but finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones. Then as we begin to live again and we start to enjoy our life, it is common that we might feel we are betraying our loved one. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new friendships, new meaningful relationships, and new beginnings. Rather than denying our feelings, we should be listening to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve. We begin to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest time in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We slowly begin to live again, but we can’t do this until grief has run its full course. How long it takes is different with each of us, and there is no timetable to follow. It takes as long as it takes, because it is as unique as you are.
You will never forget the one who left you, or the loss you experienced, but you will move on with your life. The sun will come out again, the birds will sing, laughter will flow out of your heart once more, in spite of what you think now, and in due season, you will move toward a different tomorrow. Life is precious. Treasure it. Love is priceless, hold on to it protectively, not demanding and controlling. God doesn’t mind if you ask Him why, and he doesn’t mind if you even blame Him. He knows that down the road you will survive this and grow in it and from it. God did not TAKE your loved one away to teach you something, or because He NEEDED them in Heaven. That isn’t how a loving Father acts towards his children so why would God do that to you? He wouldn’t, couldn’t and didn’t. While you think He abandoned you along the way, He was the one carrying you through it all and he bottled every one of your tears. The good news is, God restores your life and while you will laugh, live and love again, but somewhere deep inside your heart you will always carry the footprints of your loved one forever. They will never be more than a whisper away. And it is in learning this lesson that we learn to embrace death and loss as a part of the circle of life.
Life on this earth may be over for some now, but they still live on, in another realm of the spirit beyond our view and we know that they are well, happy and free of pain, sorrow, and illnesses. One day, our time to take that trip to the other side will come and we will see them again and be with them for an eternity, to infinity and beyond. That is our comfort and peace and allows us to go forward knowing that one day we will meet again.
If you or someone you know is having trouble dealing with grief contact me, Cherokee Billie, and let me help with the healing process. I am always here to help.