This blog is a little heart-rendering, so I am warning you ahead of time. It might be the one you need, and it might be the one you want to avoid.
I thought I knew what grief is all about. My mom died from cancer when I was in my 30’s. I was one of the primary caregivers for the last three months of her life. It was a wonderful gift to be able to care for her as she made her transition. I thought I was ready, but I don’t think that anyone can ever be ready to lose a parent.
About a year after her death a lot of secrets came out of her closet. It was probably the hardest year of my life, even harder than losing her. It ripped that window of grief wide open. I thought that I had made it through the grief process. I was wrong. I had to then process the anger of what she had hidden. The anger of not being able to talk it through with her, so she could explain it all.
Eighteen years later I lost my 19-year-old nephew when he was murdered. Starting this blog was how I started processing the loss not only of him but what we all lost in our relationship with our sister.
Nine years later I lost my birth father and had to process the grief of not just losing him, but losing the opportunity to have the kind of relationship I always wanted, but he wasn’t able to provide.
The following year I lost what I call my bonus dad. He had a long journey of heart disease that slowly took away his health. His was probably the easiest death to process because in the 15 yrs he lived with us, he had cleaned up what needed to be cleaned up with me.
I thought that with all of these losses, I knew what the grief process was all about. I had experienced it many times. I understood the grief stages. More importantly, I knew I would survive. I thought, “I know how to do this”. Then a few months ago, my three-year-old grandson was killed in an accident. I now know grief in a totally unique way.
This journey I now understand is not only individual to the person, it is individual to what has been lost. The loss of someone so young rips apart your heart. Then experiencing the loss through your own child, as you witness his struggle to find his way through the grief process, turns your heart to ashes.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with a limp.” – Anne Lamott
The truth is that grief for every person is a solitary journey. I can’t know how great my son’s pain is. I can’t understand the anger and depression that he is currently working through. I have no real idea of how to help. I struggle for the right words to say, and even if I feel I have found them, I struggle to know the timing of when to say them.
I also know from my own history of grief that just showing up and giving a hug can get someone through one more day of loss. What tends to happen with loss, is that at first everyone is there to support you. But time moves on for all of those dear friends and family members. They have processed the loss. They have moved on with living life, because that is what life does, it goes on.
When you have a loss that happens too soon, that feels too much to bear, your time line moves much slower. So it becomes a solitary journey. No one but you knows how great the hurt is. No one but you can know the gaping hole left in your life, especially when that someone is your little boy. And no one but you can mourn the silence, that was once filled with laughter as he ran around your house chasing the dog. It is the nature of love and of death to touch every person in a totally unique way.
“You’re under no obligation to be the person you were before life flattened you. You’re just not. Trust yourself to navigate this part of the journey.” Stephenie Zamora
Grief is not a journey in which you just push yourself through the stages and arrive at the end. There is no pushing through. What there is at the end is acceptance. You absorb it deep inside and it lives forever in your broken heart. Like a deep cut, it eventually scabs over. It is a healing process, where you pick at the scab and it bleeds and produces a new scab, over and over. Until one day you are picking at the scab and it just falls off. It leaves a scar that fades with time, but never completely goes away.
Grief never ends, but it changes. It is a passage, not a place to stay. Not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith, but the price of love. If you find yourself stuck in stage for a long time, it is time to seek a qualified therapist that can help you unblock the dam that has been created. If you find your friends and family are worried about you; if you find yourself putting on the fake smile and working hard to create the impression you have moved on (when you haven’t), it’s time to seek counseling.
“Grieving is a process. There’s a process of the shock, the anger, and then coping with the situation. You have to experience all of those levels to move forward, and sometimes you need help in that” Angela A Bridges
5 Facts about the stages of grief
- 1 – Our grief is as individual as our lives. Each person is unique in how he or she copes with feelings of grief.
- 2 – Not everyone will go through all of the 5 stages of grief
- 3 – The five stages of grief do not have a predictable, uniform, or linear pattern
- 4 – You can switch back and forth between each of the five stages of grief
- 5 – The five stages of grief are simply tools to help us frame and identify what we’re feeling
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hallow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” favin.com
3 things to know about the denial stage of grief
- 1 – it’s normal. It is a defence mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss
- 2 – it’s temporary. It carries us through the first wave of pain
- 3 – there is a grace in it. It’s nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.
“A thousand moments I had just taken for granted…, mostly because I assumed there would be a thousand more.” Morgan Matson
Anger – You may feel as though the whole world seems to be conspiring against you. You are mad at everyone, especially God. You feel as though you are walking a road to your own death, burning in the fires of your devasting anger. I think this quote describes perfectly why there is so much anger. You’ve lost all of those future moments.
“In grief, depression is a way for nature to keep us protected by shutting down the nervious system so that we can adapt to something we feel we cannot handle…, as difficult as it is to endure, depression has elements that can be helpful in grief. It slows us down and allows us to take real stock of the loss…, Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you to explore your loss in its entirety. when you allow yourself to experience depression, it will leave as soon as it has served its purpose in your loss.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Depression – I think it has to do with the hole in your heart. It is consumed with emptiness. You can’t fill it up or sew it back together. So you mask it. You deny to others that you are continuing to grieve. You’ve run out of tears, out of anger, out of the ability to cope. So the quiet emptiness just grows until it consumes you. You’ve shut off the support system and isolated yourself behind the mask. You are alone and feel like you will be alone until you die. You feel that your family and the world would be better off without you. You think that you are all alone in your grief, that everyone else has moved on. It’s depression that is controlling the mind talk and thinking. When the grief turns into this kind of depression it’s time to take off the mask and seek help. Even though you think you can’t escape the sadness, therapy will help you see past the depression.
At the end of the grief process, it is not so much a moving on, as a moving forward – as you bring your loved one along in your heart and your very breath. They are a part of you now and always. You move forward with them. You continue to engage in life because you’ve become inspired by this love. That is my wish for all of us. To reach that space where we are able to continue our journey with a peaceful heart. With the good memories that make us laugh and smile. With that inner knowing that your loved one is still in your heart. The connection is still there, it is still real, it has just changed form.