Quick question, what exactly is grief?

“intense sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.”  Let me just mention that again. ‘Especially caused by someone’s death’ Sadness from death has it’s only wee word… Right, carry on.

A lot of people have mentioned the five stages of grief to me. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. People who claim that those five feelings in that order is how you get through are wrong. I can feel/deal with all five before breakfast in a day. When I first learnt Riley was dead, it was acceptance I felt (not that same as being okay, it’s just, ‘oh so that has happened’).

Sadness but acceptance washed over me when I came back from breakfast to find Riley’s mum in tears and just a nod was all we needed. It was done. That was that. Later on I moved onto Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression.

What are the five stages of grief, what do they mean to me, and how can people help?

Denial

If I don’t believe it, it can’t be real. People often say this is the first stage of grief.

Denial, telling yourself “This isn’t happening” and “This didn’t happen.” It’s a built-in defence mechanism that, for a short time, gives you a sense of relief. We hide from the facts, we ignore the people who tell us otherwise. But it also doesn’t always come first. Still to this day every now and again, I pretend it didn’t happen. I still have moments where I tell myself that Riley should be driving home now, or he’s just gone to the bathroom. It lessens the pain for a short time.

Anger

When reality calls, the pain comes back. The hurt, the betrayal, and thus comes the anger. HOW DARE HE DIE? WHY DIDN’T THAT GUY SEE HIM? WHY CAN’T I OPEN THE GOD-DAMN MILK? That anger comes from nowhere and goes everywhere. From loved ones to complete strangers and my favourite inanimate objects (screaming and crying at the washing machine that just stopped mid-cycle for no reason). Often however, this anger is directed at the person we lost. Our rational mind knows it isn’t their fault, more often than not they didn’t chose to die.

But to our angry and (perfectly understandably) emotional mind, it doesn’t think like that. A lot of the time you resent the one you love for leaving, abandoning you, for causing so much pain. Which turns to guilt for being angry, which turns right back into anger.

There are so many people you can blame, and that turns to anger. Especially if you don’t understand how it could have happened. Riley was wearing bright motorbike gear, had his headlight on, traveling the speed limit and was a careful driver. The road was straight, the day was fine, it was the middle of the afternoon. And yet the man who killed him? Didn’t see him. That’s all anyone can tell me. He just didn’t see him. Or any of the cars behind him.

A lot of my anger stems from that. HOW DIDN’T HE SEE HIM? DID HE NOT LOOK? Maybe he was doing something wrong like checking his phone, changing the radio station, etc. But all I will ever know is that he didn’t see it.

I blame him, I blame the motorbike, I blame our government for not doing more testing for tourists, I blame the hospital for not realising he had a stroke, I blame myself for letting Riley leave, and I blame Riley.

Most of these are unfair. Most of these, they couldn’t have known. A motorbike has no control, like me. Riley had no time to react. The hospital couldn’t have changed the outcome. But the Government, and the man that didn’t see him; I blame them.

Then there is bargaining.

I was a big fan of bargaining. And if onlys.

So many deals with God, so much begging and pleading. I’m a good person most of the time, he could do me a solid this time and save Riley, right? Wrong.

Asking God for a miracle. Some new cure, for the swelling to stop, even for a groundhog day kind of situation where I close my eyes and wake up that morning, in my bed, Berlioz sitting on my dresser, pushing things off in a hope to be feed earlier and my love, sleeping quietly on ¾ of the bed with all the blankets.

Bargaining with a higher power is a way to pretend the bad news is reversible. Being told your partner has less than 24 hours and sitting there praying for a miracle. For the bad news to be redacted. Scratch from the minutes of your life.

The ‘if onlys’ could go on for days.

If only he hadn’t gone, if only I had called him before he left, stalled him for a bit, if only the hospital had caught it earlier, if only the accident had been closer to Dunedin so he got to the hospital quicker, if only I had been told earlier. If only, if only (the woodpecker sighed).

The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control, and the ‘if onlys’ and the bargaining are ways of pretending you have control of what is happening (spoiler alert, you don’t, most of the time, no one does).

My personal favourite of course: Depression

Oooooooh boy, depression. Now of course this isn’t the clinical depression. No, this is sadness times by 20. Depressed, Distressed, Despair, a void where your heart should be, etc. Utter despair is my favourite wording to use to describe this feeling. I have depression (turned up well before Riley died) so I needed a new phrase when he died to describe this feeling. Complete and utter despair.

When you are mourning, there are two types of sadness. The physical implications of losing someone. We worry about organising the burial, we worry that we haven’t told everyone who needs to know, and we worry about paying for things, etc. Regret and worry are big parts of this.

The second is a lot more private. It’s the saying goodbye to our love. It’s working through the fact that they aren’t with us anymore. This is a lot more mental than the first one. The one that makes you curl up in a ball on your floor and give up completely.

Complete and utter despair is the feeling of both. The feeling that everything is too much, and you will not live to see the other side. This is normal for people to grieve. That’s why doctors are reluctant to give grieving people medication for the depression. If it’s ongoing it needs to be looked into, but for the most part feeling absolutely alone and distressed is the way it goes. Sucky as it is.

And of course: Acceptance

Acceptance sometimes isn’t the end goal, and some people do not get to this stage. Especially if the death is unexpected, or so incredibly avoidable. Some people cannot see beyond the sadness, the depression.

Acceptance is also not a feeling of “I’m okay with this,” it’s more of an “This happened and I don’t like it but I guess I have to get fucking used to it” feeling. Accepting our loved one is physically gone, and recognising that this new reality is the permanent reality. It’s not about being okay, it’s not about being normal. It’s about learning this has happened and really your life will never be the same ever again.

Like I mentioned at the start, acceptance was the first one I felt after I heard the news Riley had died. Riley and I were very similar in our acceptance of things. ‘These things happen’ was his mind set.

 

So the five stages of grief are more of guide line, you can feel them whenever. You can feel them every single day and sometimes all at the same time.

Today I was angry. So very angry. Facebook memories brought up the fact a year ago today Riley had won a competition for his photography. I thought about how happy he was that night, how humble he was and how I wish I could have seen what he would have entered this year. And that thought made me lose my shit. Not only had the man taken away Riley, but he also took away his future, around 65 years (if I’m being generous). He took away photo competitions, computer builds, and I lost my main way to see how wonderful and beautiful the world was when you stopped and looked. I was angry, but I was also so tired of being angry. So instead, I was sad. I was sad for Riley, I was sad for myself, I was sad for everyone who knew him.

The main thing I realised, grief (all five ‘stages’) doesn’t go away. You just learn to live with it.
Update: I found out there is a big reason why people mourning don’t agree with the five stages of grief as much. A reddit user (ramen-hotep) mentioned the fact Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief was originally used for terminally ill patients. Not for people grieving. But people just keep using it for people mourning (because it’s easier for people to understand than most grief theories) and now it’s a part of society.

“Kubler-Ross originally published her five stages theory (1969) to pertain to the experiences of the dying, not bereavement. In fact, her theory has never been entirely verified to pertain to bereavement. It caught on with grief counselors, particularly in the funeral industry because it is neat and orderly; a characteristic that is handy. Over the years it took on a bit of “Dr. Phil” value.

One of the other reasons behind its popularity is that it is easily taught to students of behavioural sciences. It fits neatly alongside Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs with regard to “teachability”.

There are a plethora of other grief theories out there, but none have captured the spotlight like Kubler-Ross’. Bannano, Freud, Lindemann, never caught on. In part, because they are less lay-friendly.

The blog author here convincingly detailed the flaws often found when the bereaved try to apply Kubler-Ross to their own grief. Many of the “stages” hit at the same time and we drift back and forth or skip stages entirely. The problem with adherence to the Kubler-Ross model, is that people begin to think they are abnormal because they don’t seem to fit it. In actuality, there is nothing wrong with the mourner.

The problem is in the model. It does not apply exactly the same to everyone.”

So if you, like me, don’t agree with the five stages it’s not that you are mourning wrong or anything. It’s just that that theory wasn’t actually meant for people like us!

“Grief is the price we pay for love.” – Queen Elizabeth II (#worthit)

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Anything for the ‘perfect shot’

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