There are some emotions in life that can never be fully explained in words. Grief is one of them. Until you experience it firsthand, it is completely unfathomable. Just as you cannot explain the feeling of drowning to someone who has, thus far, kept their head above water, you cannot explain grieving to an audience who has not experienced a significant loss.
What nobody tells you is that the often talked about stages of grief are not chronological, nor is the process of grieving linear. No, these stages will not come full circle. At times you will feel absolutely everything. At times you will feel absolutely nothing. And sometimes, you will feel both everything and nothing all at once. Grief flows in waves. Some are shallow and relatively easy to pass through, and other waves are so strong that you feel as if you'll never make it back to shore.
This is what it feels like to grieve. For those of you who are lucky enough to stay afloat, let me tell you what it feels like to drown. Then let me tell you what it feels like to come back up for air.
- Denial: One cannot reasonably deny a certified fact. Still, you will try. You cannot deny a death certificate, a weepy funeral service, or ashes in a neat little vase. You cannot deny the loss that you feel, but you will attempt to deny that those messy feelings will persist. When you receive that signed death certificate, weep at that funeral, or receive that neat little vase containing the ashes, you lose your ability to deny the legitimacy of your loss. The only thing that is left to deny is that the pain you feel will not be fleeting. However, one day you will learn to no longer deny the pain, but to embrace it.
- Anger: The world does not owe you anything, but you will believe it does. You will be angry. You will be livid. You will blame everything and everyone in your path simply because you must blame something. Life is unfair. Life can be cruel. Your anger will override any rationality you once possessed. You will scream into a pillow. You will curse at the wind. You will feel the anger pulse through your veins. You will feel the anger pump the blood to your heart. But most of all, you will feel anger that the one you love left you to bear all that anger on your own. However, one day you will learn how to forgive the world, how to forgive the one you lost for leaving, and, most importantly, how to forgive yourself.
- Bargaining: How many times have you fell back on superstitions without a second thought? "If I do this, then that will happen" or "if I don't do this, that could never occur". You will do more than bargain. You will downright plead. You will either convince yourself that you believe in miracles, or your preexisting beliefs will hit full throttle. And when that miracle does not come to fruition, you will either justify your lack of faith, or lose the faith you previously had. You will tell yourself that bargaining has permanently lost its value. However, one day you will learn that bargaining never held any value — only your present words and actions do.
- Depression: Whatever sadness you have felt before will probably not compare to the sadness you hold within yourself now. You will weigh every word, both said and unspoken, and you will feel that it was never enough, or that it was too much, or most likely, a combination of both. You will replay memories countless times. You will experience regret the way you never have before. You will feel the loss in every future interaction for the foreseeable future to make sure your words and actions properly align. If you did not get to say goodbye, you will be heartbroken that so many things were left unsaid. If you had the chance to say goodbye, you will feel that those final words were never enough. In the beginning, no amount of comfort will ease a sadness so deep it feels tangible. However, one day you will learn to compartmentalize the pain and accept the happiness that will inevitably come back your way.
- Acceptance: Here's the thing about acceptance — it just is not real. You will never accept that they are gone, and you will never accept that you are here without them. You will never accept that every future milestone will still happen without them. You will never accept that each new day is another day you face without their physical presence. The only thing you can accept is reality. This reality is a new one. It is a reality that you will always wish was a fantasy. However, one day you will learn not only to survive your new reality, but to thrive in it.
There is one stage of grief that often goes unacknowledged. It is not categorized as a part of grieving, but it is very much one of them. This stage is called moving forward.
- Moving forward: One day, you will understand that loss is inevitable. One day, you will accept that you may never fully move on, but that you can still recover. One day, you will realize that your loss has made you stronger, more resilient, yet somehow softer at the same time. One day, you will be proud of the person you have become, not despite your loss, but because of it. And one day, you will feel the sun shine on you again, and you will remember that when you lose, you will also gain.