I remember being a Nursing student and studying the 5 stages of grief. The book On Death & Dying, written by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross became every nurses’ bible. I studied each stage trying to understand the power of grief over our hearts and souls. During my Nursing career, I became a witness to the grief experience as I helped many families say goodbye to their loved ones. The echoes of screams and uncontrollable sobbing etched themselves forever in my brain. Never once did I think I would be the one screaming.
My education consisted of the theory that grief followed a straight path. That we put one foot in front of the other as we climbed the steps from one stage to the next. I always pictured grief as a linear process. Like a roadmap to be followed. We must pass through the first stage before we were emotionally able to handle the next. Textbook grief was so well defined. Like a Lego project, one step built upon the next until you reached the top and returned to the old you. People were thought to be returning to “normal” or “getting on with life” after “surviving” all the firsts. Grief was supposed to be a temporary place where hearts and souls healed. Grief was like a passing ship. The impact felt as the wake hit the jetty but soon the waters became calm and life returned to “normal”. I always felt that grief was like an exam. You had to finish the first questions before you got to the last question.
My grief theory was crushed on a snowy January day. Grief found me. My son, Matt died and my world came crashing down. That supposedly predictable and orderly pattern I studied made no sense now that I was living it. To be honest, nothing made sense. 30 months later I’m still trying to make sense out of my life.
Life after Matt’s death has been a devastating, disorienting time. He wasn’t supposed to die. There are days I don’t know how I will ever reach that final stage of Acceptance. Really, am I supposed to just accept that his misunderstood disease killed him? I’m just to chalk it up to life? I’m expected to accept that I can no longer pick up the phone and hear his voice? Accept that he left without a warning? Without giving me a chance to hold him as he took his last breath as I did after he took his first?
I am stuck. Denial and Anger hold my hands. They are my constant companions. Denial keeps me somewhat sane. Anger fuels my desire to fight the broken system. The system that let us down and let him die. Anger gives me the strength to stand up to the haters. Anger helps me to tell our story hoping to save another mother from my grief.
I was not prepared for the power of my grief. I was not prepared to become a stranger to the person I once was. I was not prepared for the reflection staring back at me when I glance in the mirror. Grief has washed my face in pain and lives in my eyes. Grief doesn't know its stages. It doesn't know that after all “the firsts” I’m supposed to climb that grief staircase until I get to the top and shout Hoorah I’m done. I survived. I made it to the top.
My grief is clever. It’s tricky. Letting me think that today I will be ok. Today I will be “normal”. Today I will feel joy. Today I will not be carrying its weight on my chest. Today my grief will be predictable.
The reality is my grief has me floating on a tiny raft in an enormous unpredictable ocean. Waves hit hard tossing me in the frigid water. They pull away allowing me to catch my breath before hitting again. My grief has me floating in a thick fog never knowing when it will sneak up. Grief squeezes me from behind as a memory hits or a song plays. I’m dry eyed one minute, a sobbing mess the next.
Living with grief has taught me it has no stages. It’s all a lie. Grief is a crapshoot. It shifts and changes. It’s never the same minute to minute or hour to hour. Grief ebbs and flows. Grief has a mind of it’s own, making you feel you are losing what’s left of yours. Grief cannot be contained or controlled. Grief has moved into my soul and I have no idea how to evict it.
Grief is as unique as a fingerprint. There is no set pattern. However we survive is how we survive. There is no compass to lead the way on a dark night. The only thing I’ve learned for sure is that until you have met grief you have no imaginable idea of it’s power over your life. The other thing I know for sure is that Grief Sucks!!