The Kubler-Ross 5 stages of grieving really seem to be more directed toward an individual who is processing a diagnosis of terminal illness as opposed to one who is processing the loss of a loved one. This framework has, however, been adjusted to the seven stages of grieving model.
My first critique is that this model implies a linear process. You are told it’s not that simple, but it’s difficult not to imply that you start with Shock and Denial and proceed through the steps to Acceptance (whatever the hell that is) and Hope. Frankly the groupings and order are such that a procession from one step to the next is logical, it just doesn’t work that way. If I were putting this together I wouldn’t call them steps or stages, I’d just say these are some of the feelings you might or might not have in no particular order and you’ll probably deal with some of them more than once.
I also think there is a tendency to assume if you are not working through these items in a ordered sequential process that your grieving is somehow unhealthy or faulty. “I already did depression; there must be something wrong with me.” One thing I’ve learned for sure is that everyone’s grieving style, process and timetable is different. If you can get out of bed, go to work and function, and if you’re not engaging in destructive behaviors, your grief process is probably healthy.
What follows are my thoughts on this framework based on where I stand today, nine and one half months into my journey.
1. Shock & Denial – Shock? Oh yeah, I experienced shock in a big way and it lasted for a couple of months, or maybe even more. I didn’t wake up one day and the shock was all over. It kind of wore off, one day I noticed the fog had lifted and I realized I can hold a coherent series of thoughts in my mind. Denial is a different story for me. It didn’t happen. There was a certain amount of emotional avoidance from time to time, sometimes in a healthy way (to allow me to be functional) and sometimes less so (where I was trying to hide from the pain). But I was never able to deny the reality of what happened.
2. Pain & Guilt – The pain, the shock and the anger all happened for me in the first several hours. In the first few months the pain was often so overwhelming I didn’t know how to go on but I did, I had no choice. The pain still comes and goes. Every now an then a wave will hit. I haven’t learned how to ride it out yet so a lot of the time, even now, the emotional circuit breaker just shuts down. I know it’s not the healthy way to deal but I think it’s hard wired in me, call it a work in progress. Guilt came later. The woulda, shoulda coulda’s hit me in the quiet time, after the arrangements where completed, and are still ongoing in some sense. I still ask myself what I could have done differently. On an intellectual level I can understand that the course of events wasn’t my fault but you still can’t help but ask yourself “Should I have said something or done something different?” I have recently found my regrets taking on a more global texture. I should have told him how proud I was of him; I should have told him I loved him more. It’s more about the lost opportunities than the accident itself.
3. Anger & Bargaining – Within an hour or two of getting the call last October I was seething in a way I never imagined possible. I know now what it feels like to go crazy. That anger melted away in a flurry of tears that morning and for the most part, hasn’t come back. Anger is a natural reaction to loss, but it is also the most potentially destructive. I would urge anyone going through a situation like this to acknowledge their anger, but to master it. If anger takes control it will eat your soul and damage everyone around you. Bargaining to me is a form of denial. Since I’ve never been able to sustain denial I’ve never really bargained. In the end I don’t think bargaining really belongs on this list, I get it for the terminally ill but what bargain can I make? Suspend reality and let me change the past, I’d take it, but I don’t think it’s going to be offered.
4. Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness – Well this has pretty much been constant since I started. Ultimately, no matter how close you are to your surviving loved ones, this journey is one you take inside yourself. Therefore you go it alone. I can, and do, try to share with my wife and kids, both to help me and to help them, but this is a different process for each of us. We are all different personalities at different ages and with different relationships to Kev. Our grief is unique to us and we must each find our own path. We can help each other but no one can take the burden off the other.
5. The Upward Turn – I’m not sure when this happens. I don’t think I’ve experienced it yet. I doubt you notice it when it happens, only in retrospect.
6. Reconstruction and working through – In the end, this is really what grieving is about. It’s not a stage or a step, it’s the entire process. Everything we are experiencing, the anger, depression, pain and longing is all part of it.
7. Acceptance & Hope – The goal if you will, but I hate the word acceptance. I can accept the reality of this, I did on day one, but I can’t “accept” it in any other way. It has been suggested to me that reconciliation is a better word. That I can work with. I will reconcile myself to this reality. It is, it wasn’t supposed to be, but it is. I can’t fix it or change it, so I have no choice but to learn to live with it.
Hope? That’s all we have in the end isn’t it. I hope to come to terms with this in time. I hope to feel joy again. I hope nothing like this ever happens again. I hope that since I can’t change this that I will work to become a better person in his honor. As long as I can draw breath there is hope.
So those are my thoughts, the only thing I can say with certainty is yours are likely to be different.