There are several things I have learned this summer, but the biggest thing I've learned is that the stages of grief are real and true and they hurt. However, the 5 stages of grief come and go, not everyone travels through the stages at the same time and there is not a certain order to the stages. Even though I have them listed below, there is no set way you grieve. And it is possible to go back and forth between stages. That's what makes grief so hard; it sucks you in and it tumbles you to the bottom and pushes you right back up just to pull you back down again.
1. Denial and isolationGiphy
"This isn't happening, this can't be happening."
Everyone goes through denial even if it's just for a second. It is the bodies way of protecting itself from the onset of very strong emotions. When my dad died, I went through denial. It took me awhile to realize I had gone through this stage. I grew up in the hospital with a sick father and a kick-ass nurse for a mom, so medical terminology is a normal thing in my home. So when I sat in the ICU and listened to the doctor use words like "fixed pupils" and "off-sedation and still unresponsive," I knew what all that meant. But yet, I needed to hear him say it. Even though I was crying long before he said the dreaded words, actually hearing it made it seem so more real. So, at first I didn't think it was happening because I understood the medical side of it all. It wasn't until I was sitting down with my mom saying things like "I can't believe this happened," or "I can't believe he's gone," did I realize that I was in denial. I knew what was happening, I just didn't want to accept it.
Last week, one of my friends from high school died, and I found myself saying the same things I said when my dad died.
Anger, anger, and so much anger. This is what I felt for a very long time after my fathers death, and even after my friend from school died. But more so when my dad died.
Anger is normally what sets in when denial wears off, however like I said before, not everyone goes straight to anger, that is just the most common sequence of events. The anger happens because we are trying to deflect from the emotions we are feeling inside. Anger can be aimed at strangers, friends, family, inanimate objects, our deceased loved ones and even at the doctors.
I was angry for what felt like a long time. I blamed my dad for leaving me and my sisters, I blamed the chaplain at the hospital for paying more attention to my grandma than to me and my sisters. I was angry at the hospital. The beloved hospital and neuro-department who I grew up around. I was so mad at them and sometimes I still am. I blame them for letting me down, when they never had before, I blamed them for not being able to help my dad when they took an oath to do all they can. I blamed everyone for a long time, and now I blame God.
I have come to accept the death of my father, and my anger is not as much as it used to be. However, I am still mad at my faith and God. Especially since I've lost my uncle, my dad, my friend from school, and my second cousin in just eight months. To say I cry a lot is an understatement.
"If only I would have paid better attention."
"If only the past few months wouldn't have happened and things were different."
"If only we would have answered the phone."
"If only I would have texted back."
The "what-if " statements go on and on and on. And this is the bargaining stage. It's normal to feel helplessness and vulnerability and it normally leads to wanting to gain control of your life again. That is where the "what-if" and "if-only" statements come from. Guilt normally comes with bargaining, at least in my case it did. But honestly, I had guilt for a long time. We start to think there was something we could have done differently to have helped, or something we could have prevented. And that feeling nags and nags and nags at you until you feel less then whole, and you already don't feel whole because someone you love is gone.
A lot of people believe there are two types of depression associated with mourning. I believe that the depression is all the same and both forms feed into each other and cause one big mess. You had to deal with the sudden onset of the loss, which sends this overwhelming wave of horribleness over you. And then you have to deal with farewell of your loved one, and the cost of burials, and do we spend enough time with everyone else we love. This stage is so complex and so intricate and just all around sucks.
A lot of times, a hug helps, and when my dad died we hugged each other a lot, but when you are holding onto regret, anxiety, anger, guilt, and so many other things, it becomes hard to breathe. It becomes hard to find the way to the top and that ocean that we talked about earlier becomes huge. And if you are me, then to make all of it stop you sleep, you cry, and you hide yourself away. I didn't go back to work for a month because I was a mess. My doctor had to give me some medication and I am just now, three months later, starting to get into a bit more of a routine. And I am no where near who I used to be. This was the stage that took me over.
Reaching this stage of grieving is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression. Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience— nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you're going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
I have accepted the fact my father, uncle, cousin, and best friend are gone. And sometimes I still fall back into the other stages, if only for a moment. I like to think I have reached the acceptance side. I am just starting to go out and do things, but I like to keep to myself now. Where as before I wanted to be alone, but as soon as I was alone I wanted company and to know my family was still there. So it gives me comfort to know I am starting to enter my last stage of grief. And even if I hit a bump where I see another stage, at least I know I am not the only one suffering.
I apologize every time I start crying, and my mom says, "don't ever apologize for crying. If you are crying, that means those tears are important, and what you are feeling needs to be felt. And you may never be able to talk about it without crying, and that is okay." I like to think all of this will be over one day. But I know differently. I know my dad isn't coming back from the dead, and my uncle and friend won't be calling me anymore either. And the fact my cousin is gone too doesn't help either. But if I have learned anything this summer, it's the stages of grief are not as cliche as they sound. They are real, they happen, and they suck, but the way you feel is common, and natural and should never be looked down on.