One of the first things I did after getting through the first few days of shock from losing a healthy, vibrant, very much alive 25-year-old son, was to begin researching on-line what happens when someone loses a beloved child. I found a few books I thought might be helpful and purchased them. One was Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ “On Grief and Grieving”. I knew of her book “On Death and Dying”, but wasn’t as familiar with the one on grieving, so I got it, read it, and re-read the section on sudden loss more than a time or two. It was helpful, as far as a beginning toward understanding what happens to a person when a loved one suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically passes away.
Her book, “On Death and Dying” is the one we are all at least a little familiar with, whether we realize it or not. This is the book in which she outlines the “stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance”.
How do we, as a society, blindly and unwittingly accept an idea as the gospel truth? This is something I’ve always been fascinated by, but until my son was killed in a car accident, and professionals and others began quoting these “stages” to me, I hadn’t really given much time to considering the effects of accepting a theory, idea or observation as certainty.
Kubler-Ross’ idea of stages of grief came about as a result of many years of studying what a person goes through when they are told their death is imminent.
They are not the stages a grieving person goes through after the loss of a loved one. They can be. But there is no certain order to grieving a loss. It is random, messy, unpredictable, sometimes crazy, and can be devastating. There is no “going through the stages of grief” when someone dies. It is preposterous to think that! (IMHO)
I think this is a much more accurate depiction of grief than those five stages:
And my personal journey of grief has looked, and sometimes continues to look more like this:
So today I’d like to share a section from a book that boldly tells it like it is, in regards to grieving a loss, by someone who might know a bit about it. Tom Zuba is the author of Permission to Mourn, A New Way to Do Grief. He lost his 18-month-old daughter, then 9 years later, his beloved wife, and 6 years after that, his 13-year-old son. I have a hard time breathing just thinking about the magnitude of the losses he has experienced. His writing in this section tells what I’m trying to express so much better than I can.
The Unpredictability of Grief
“If you are working with a therapist, counselor, social worker, grief expert, minister, priest, or anyone else who is trying to help you navigate the wilderness of grief and they start talking about the groundbreaking observations of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, suggesting there is an orderly, predictable unfolding of grief – please, please, please, do yourself a favor – Leave.
People who are dying often experience five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are grieving their impending death. This is what Elizabeth Kubler-Ross observed.
People who are learning to live with the death of a beloved have a different process. It isn’t the same. It isn’t orderly. It isn’t predictable.
Grief is wild and messy and unpredictable and uncertain and ever-changing and unsettling and unnerving.
Everyone grieves. Everyone.
Grief is the internal, automatic response to loss.
If you are alive and have attached to something. Anything. A job. A pet. Your health. Your looks. Your house. A person. A certain lifestyle. Your car. Anything.
If you have attached to something and you lose that something, you grieve. Automatic. Internal.
And as much as I’d like to tell you that grief will be orderly, neat and tidy, predictable, and unfold in five stages. It will not. Period.
Most of us (all of us) are ill-prepared and ill-equipped to go with the flow of grief when it is our time, because we never talk about it. What it’s like to live with grief.
Grief expresses itself in surprising and confusing ways. There may be times all you want to do is sleep and other times when you can’t sleep at all.
There may be times when you eat and eat and eat and other times when you have no appetite. You may feel confused, sad, anxious, desperate, angry, frightened, lonely, nauseous, numb, dazed, dizzy, to name a few of the ways that grief expresses itself seemingly all at the same time.
And when your arms physically ache to hold your beloved, when you have heart palpitations and stomach pains and fight to keep your balance, this too is grief.
You think you are going crazy.
You are not.
You have entered the wilderness of grief.
And in order to get out, you must go through.
You must give yourself permission to mourn.“