Monday, January 16, 2012

The Stages of Grief

Way back when, I went to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Parks and Tourism. I specialized in convention and visitor bureau development and geriatric recreation and worked various internships including senior centers. Part of the prep work for the geriatric recreation portion of my degree was taking geriatrics classes and in one of those classes I studied the 1969 ground breaking work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying.

"If you shield the canyons from the windstorms,
you would never see the beauty of their carvings.”

In it Ms Kubler-Ross describes the five stages of grief when we lose a loved one. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance but not everyone goes through them in a prescribed order or even goes through each one. The stages are merely tools and no one, No One, can tell anyone else in what order to take them or even to take each one. It's okay to skip one, even more, but you need to let God and yourself tell you what to do. Others cannot tell you what you need or have to do; they can tell you what they did or how they handled their grief but it's still their grief and your grief is your grief. 

I think most Westerner's are uncomfortable with real emotions. Perhaps you've seen those foot ball games or commercials where men are naked, painted blue, hefting a beverage and screaming their heads off. Oh...that's okay -???- but a person sobbing in public or needing, yet again, to speak of their dead loved one, that's not okay.
Say whuuuttt?!

Some of us are so out of touch with God, ourselves, our emotions and feelings, we haven't a clue who we are as a person. Some of us have depths never plumbed; frankly, I am fearful of a skin deep faith because it's not if, but when, hard times come.

We seem to be comfortable with over the top emotions or emotions that require nothing in return, save perhaps a quick hug or pat on the back, but real emotions make most people uncomfortable. Real emotions are messy but real emotions are what help us cope and, more importantly, begin the healing process. That's something else...the healing p.r.o.c.e.s.s. . It's a process, meaning it takes time and, again, no one can tell you how much, or how little, time.

Anyway, time is irrelevant and as the Bible tells us a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day to God. Have you not experienced a day that fairly fled from sun to sun while another day dragged on for, seemingly, a lifetime?
There's an old saying, "grieve for three months for a parent, a year for a child and a lifetime for a spouse." Now do you understand why so many old portraits and photographs show women in black widow weeds? I'm not suggesting you grieve according to the old saying but I am suggesting you take your time; if need be, I'm giving you permission to take your time.

Remember this: it takes as long as it takes.

Subsequent studies are similar and say the stages are

shock - initial paralysis
denial - avoidance
anger - out-pouring of emotion
bargaining - trying to find a way out
depression - realization of the situation's reality
testing - trying to find solutions
acceptance - moving forward

but it was Swiss born Kubler-Ross who first introduced us to the stages of grief.
From my experience, grief is physical; dang physical as well as being a black hole that, initially, is totally overwhelming. It's all consuming and life is, at the very best, hard. Extremely hard and even breathing, at times, is all consuming. There are times I gulp air like a guppy and only because I realize I've not breathing. I've been holding my breath and haven't taken a breath in several seconds so I gulp air in an effort to restore oxygen to the organs and brain.

The few good hours, eventually, turn into a few good days which turn into a few good weeks, time or so I'm told and hoping. Time is the key, don't try and rush it, grief cannot be rushed.

Amongst the grieving, there's a lot of living yet to be done, especially if you have children or go to an outside job every day. Thank God, my job has always been taking care of Dave, the farm, the animals and myself but I'm still finding it hard to remember to put myself first. I still forget to eat three meals a day, to sleep eight hours a night and to do two things, daily, that move me forward. I try, but I don't always remember, to be gentle with myself. God knows there are plenty of folks standing in line to kick my fanny so remembering to be being gentle with myself is a Very Good Thing!

If you're a Christian and know someone who has lost a loved one, please, don't judge them. Don't tell them what they should, or shouldn't, be doing; don't tell them they are grieving "incorrectly" or "it's been xx amount of time, don't you think it's time you moved on?" If you're not a Christian, be tolerant. It's so easy for any of us to tell someone else what to do, but remember, when we're pointing a finger at someone else, we've got three fingers pointing back at us. While we're busy looking at someone else's life, telling them what to do, there are others looking at our lives and thinking we could be doing better as well.
This writing is being cross posted here and on the Thistle Cove Farm blog. There are so many things that can be done now  while you, and your loved one, are still among the living that will make it so much easier for those left behind when you die. Doesn't matter if you're the wife or husband, one of you will, more than likely, go first and, statistically speaking, it will be the husband.

Oh, you're not married? Guess what? You can still do some of these same things to make it easier on whomever you've designated to be your Executor or Executrix. It will also be less stressful, money will be saved and precious resources won't be lost during the grieving process...when one can ill afford to lose anything because losing something means you have less at hand to deal with an already overwhelming situation. What I write is meant to be helpful but use what you want and toss the rest. It's your life and your decisions; what works for me might not, for whatever reason, work for you.

Please, do not fret over any of this! If you don't have something or can't afford it, make do. The important thing is you get your affairs in

HOMEWORK - collect a three-ring notebook, lined note paper, plastic sleeves that are open at the top, plastic sleeves that can close at the top, section dividers, three-ring pen holder attached to the notebook and contained therein a pen, small calculator, small ruler, paper clips

Blessings ~ Kubler-Ross ~ friends ~ stages of grief ~ grieving ~ emotions ~ kindness ~ patience ~ gentleness ~


Madge @ The View From Right Here said...

I agree, no one except the Lord can know intimately the grief of another. Empathy is as close as we can get and yes, I agree too that most of us are uncomfortable with deep, raw emotions. We ask, 'How are you?' not really wanting an answer beyond 'Fine.' Lord help us to be patient with each other and to listen and love each other the best that we can with the ability you give us...

Jane said...

I too agree,we all heal in our own time,and no you certainly can't rush grief...It won't be rushed,it stays for a season,then quietly leaves a shadow behind. But the sun will shine again...One day.

Blessings Jane

Star said...

I'm listening Sandra. When I was younger, my Dad used to say to me 'Tell me your troubles, my shoulders are broad enough to take them from you' and he was right, they were.
I used to be a Christian, but now I have changed somewhat. Whilst I still hold to my upbringing, I now travel the Wiccan path, close to nature. There are reasons for this. I won't go into that now. Suffice to say that Wiccans believe in the Summerlands and reincarnation. That's a stretch, but one worth considering... We also believe in the Wheel of the year, where everything goes round and round. I like that idea very much. I like the idea that we die in order that others may live.
I no longer want someone to die on a cross for my sins to be washed away. I don't want that responsibility. I am uncomfortable with it now.
As a Wiccan, I will be responsible for my own sins. I will 'take up my own cross' for now.

Cathy said...

Just a comment on the 5 stages of grief: they were written to pertain to the person dying, the stages he/she would experience, not for those of us left behind.

I, too, am a member of this widowed club, reluctantly. Almost 3 years out...time does temper the grief, but I believe it will always be there in some form. Take care.

Teri said...

I don't buy the five stages of grief, but I do now that everyone experiences grief in their own way. I think of time as a river. It carries you away from your loved one. There are times when you are stuck in slow moving spots, where you get through the day 15 minutes at a time. Then there are times when the current is swift and it seems like you are racing away from those beloved memories.

I was married for 37 years. There were times, when I was moving into my current life, that I literally disassociated. I had almost an out of body experience because I couldn't believe that I was in this place, this time, living without Jeffrey. I still find it hard to believe at times. The grief simply becomes more manageable.

People are going to tell you that it becomes easier with time. I can remember how hard that sounded, when my grief was new and overwhelming. Three months after his death, I had a cashier in the grocery store tell me to "have a nice day". And I thought, she's right. Maybe some day I will have a nice day again. It really did happen, after those days of loneliness and grief that would put me into hysterics at odd moments. I hope that you are starting to see those nice days again. It does not disrespect your husband's memory to smile and laugh. Somehow, you will have to create a life of your own.