“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”Edna St. Vincent Millay
What are the stages of grief? I’d like to discuss them and what those mean for me. I first researched this when I was much younger and I lost my dad to a heart attack. At the age of 14, I had no life experience to fall back on. Everything was brand new. Sure, I’d lost people I knew before. It wasn’t exactly anything new. However, I had never lost someone so close to me. So I researched it, and it honestly has helped me ever since.
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”Thomas Campbell
Because I learned how I respond to grief and what was MY normal. My normal may differ from yours. So please don’t read this and think it should all apply to you. Everybody experiences grief differently, but this is meant to be kind of a baseline and to guide you through the process a bit and better understand it. Hopefully you can use this to kind of learn about yourself and how you respond to grief and take better care of yourself as you go through it.
I feel like if more people understood the grief process for themselves, they could grieve in a more productive way. I say that because it seems like people go through the process and seem to beat themselves up. Like, I’ve been depressed for two weeks now, I should be done and over it now. Or, well-meaning friends and family think someone has grieved long enough and it’s time to just get over it. I personally don’t think enough people understand it enough to really help each other.
Some stages may last longer than others, some may feel like you just kind of skipped them over. Or, you may go back and forth between a couple of them. That is perfectly normal.
Shock and disbelief This is kind of that moment where you just sort of sit down and are trying to figure it all out and understand. A million questions running through your mind. Many people respond to the initial shock by thinking it is all a big joke. This would be your mind going into shock and trying to figure it all out. I always kind of feel like this is the moment where I should burst into hysterical tears, and yet every time, nothing.
No idea why I think that’s how I should respond, but it’s more like I just sort of sit down and wonder how in the world something horrible could be happening. It’s the weird stage for me where I look apathetic. Or at least that’s how I feel others see me. Which makes me worry. Because I think I look like a heartless person. This is the one single stage where I constantly worry what others think of me. Did I respond appropriately?
Denial That can’t be true. You misunderstood. It’s a joke. That person would never do that. They always did X and therefore Y shouldn’t have happened to them. Our loved one didn’t deserve to have had it happen to them. It feels like your brain is suddenly working overtime to come up with excuses or ways the bad news can’t be true.
Anger Everyone expresses anger differently. It can be screaming into a pillow or any kind of verbal expression of anger, to being physically abusive to themselves or others. Anger is perfectly normal. Everybody deals with the anger when going through the grief process. For me, this stage is the worst. Because I get mad that I’ve lost someone important to me and my world just collapsed. Yet, I get mad at myself for being mad. I know it’s healthy and there is nothing wrong with it because it is a completely normal stage in the grief process. But yet I end up mad at myself for being mad.
I am my own worst critic. The important thing here is to find healthy ways to let it out. Find your happy place to let it out. Some people pick violent video games, so they are shooting and blowing things up, but they aren’t actually hurting anyone. Others like the gym. Go sweat out your anger for an hour each day, beat your body up so you’re physically exhausted and have no choice but to relax and sleep. Some paint, cook, find ways to give to others through volunteering. There are a million different ways to let the anger out in a productive way, and it is up to you to find what works best for you.
Bargaining Some people find themselves pleading with god to bring someone back, promising they will cease doing something bad in return. I’ll never drink again if you bring Johnny back, kind of thing. Me, I’ve said myself, I would gladly take two lives in exchange for having the person I want back in my life. Give god two and he gives me one back. Who can go wrong with a 2 for 1 deal, right?! I’ll gladly pull the trigger and empty a magazine into a couple people for the one I want back. I know it can’t happen. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. It’s more wishful thinking and I have no idea why we do that. But, I guess wishful thinking is comforting at times.
Guilt This stage is more self-reflection than grief. I think it is the hardest of all, because it’s the place where we’ve come far enough to process the event and come to terms with it happening. Once we do that, then comes the part where we feel guilt and beat ourselves up. Why didn’t I leave earlier? Could I have changed the course of events if I had done something different? Why didn’t I do this or that? I feel like an idiot. I could’ve done something different. Or I should have done something different. Then I wouldn’t be here and going through this. If you’ve ever heard the term, your mind is your own worst enemy, yeah. That’s never a more true statement than in this stage of the grief process.
Depression Depression is often seen throughout the grief process, but it’s also often overshadowed by other emotions during other stages. This is where it becomes the number one feeling and we go through sort of a fog of daily life. This is the time where the little things bother us.
Checking the mail and seeing something addressed to the person you lost and bursting into tears. Going to the gym and wanting to text your accomplishments to that someone. Making some sort of food you would always share with them. Old habits die hard, even when someone is gone. Then the sudden realization or remembering that they are gone is like being punched in the stomach and face all at the same time. This is the time where someone going through the grief process has a tendency to isolate themselves from others more, and just wants to be alone. Because the reminders are simply too painful at times.
Acceptance This feels like coming out of a cave after a long hibernation and trying to reintegrate yourself into the world again. This is the point where we can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel again. Think of memories of the person we lost and find some joy in them instead of anguish. It’s not an overnight process, that’s for sure. So be patient with yourself as you deal with this. It’s a rebuilding of your life, establishing the new normal without someone in your life.
That isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t fun. But this is the stage where you start to feel the want to be part of life again. During some stages of the grief process, especially the depression stage, getting up and participating in real life is difficult. Here, you’ll find yourself slowly wanting to again.
“You gave me forever within the numbered days…”John Green,
The Fault In Our Stars
Grief is so very different for everyone. I’ve learned over the years that I don’t really do the denial or bargaining stages much. That’s just me. My appetite goes down the drain though. I have a terrible time eating. I distinctly remember the Monday after my best friend died, I went to the gym and my gym partner asked me how I was eating. This was nothing new or special. He checked in with me weekly about that and my weight. I simply remember my response being, “umm… I’m not eating right now.”
Like, I can’t physically make myself do it. Which is very common for me when I go through grief. When I was younger I would try to eat and appear to be normal. I’d get ready to take a bite and just couldn’t do it. So I buy things high in protein and eat small amounts every few hours. Protein drinks are my best friend. That way I’m at least doing something moderately healthy. Enough to keep myself from getting sick.
I’ve learned about triggers. I can’t stop them all, but I can certainly try to keep them to a minimum until I’m ready to find joy in memories. I remember making salsa one day, and out of sheer habit, I set aside a container so my husband could take some to my best friend when he went to work. When you finally have the realization that you can’t send food to a dead person, it’s like a giant punch in the face. Sometimes it’s going by a place you used to go with that special person. Avoiding that for a while, especially in the beginning is a good thing.
There does come a point when you may want to confront memories and process through them. That’s great! Just be prepared for whatever happens. It may be easy, it may be difficult. The key is be patient with yourself. I’ve found when I want to confront a memory or place, I just do it. If I overthink it, I’m ruining whatever experience needed to happen.
Just take it one day at a time. One hour at a time. Do what is best for you. One day when I was in the area of my best friend’s house, I asked my husband to drive by it. I didn’t tell him what I wanted, just said, turn down this street for me please. I had no idea how I would feel going by and reliving both good and bad memories, but I knew I wanted to confront them either way. So I did and it helped. I avoided it for months, until I was ready though.
We all need to be patient with ourselves during the grief process. Yes, I’m stating the obvious. However, it may be obvious, but how many of us actually put that knowledge into practice? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Lol. I know I don’t. I’m my own worst critic. I’m impatient with myself, I harshly criticize myself and my feelings, my responses to everything. You know those memes we see on Facebook about not knowing what someone is going through, so be kind to everyone? I feel like we should apply that to ourselves too. Like, be patient and gentle with yourself. Don’t worry so much about being nice to others. Be nice to yourself first.
Just remember, you aren’t alone. You can reach out and talk to others. If friends or family can’t help you, there are other resources available. Many are better than family and friends because they are trained professionals. Please don’t be afraid to reach out. Never be afraid to reach out.
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”Alfred Tennyson