Grief, Grades & Shams – The Sham of the 5 Stages of Grief
Five years and 37 days ago we lost our daughter, Kelligar. Our sons lost their sister that day. She was 11 years old. Our worlds forever changed.
After five years, one could argue that I should be over it. But the truth is, I am not. In fact, I could give you the five year figure in months and days. You see, the day she died is never too far from my current thoughts, regardless of how many times each and every day I push them out of my mind. Thoughts of her surround me because the memory of her is in everything.
So the other day, someone with whom I have always had a tentative relationship with called. In the midst of that conversation she said something I have heard a million times. It's been like five years, right? You should be getting over her death. Quickly that was followed by, if you ever get over something like that; I don't really know. Both of those statements can put me in a tizzy. Truth is, people who have not suffered profound loss just do not get it. And really, how could they?
Truly what I have learned about grief, by living with and through sometimes insufferable grief, is that the Five Stages of Grief is a sham. It is true that one might experience the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but it is not mandatory and there certainly is no order! In fact, some of those listed might be skipped and replaced with some other emotion. Like so many things written and then adopted as Gospel, this was simply one woman's paper, written for a grade. Yes, folks, that is the truth.
Some of the misconceptions the public have about death.
- The general public thinks the Five Stages of Grief are the holy grail of dealing with the death of a loved one. It is not.
- You need to get over this and move on.
- People have a time frame in their minds when they think YOU should be done with grieving. When asked, most cannot really put a real number to their ideals, but it is almost always sooner than the grieving person feels.
- I know how you feel. Unless they have experienced profound loss, no they cannot. And even if they have experienced it, they do not know your inner feelings.
- You should handle your loss in a reasonable manner. Do not cry too much or too little. Make it just right so they are comfortable with your emotions.
- Do not discuss the deceased person (or mention their name) with the grieving person.
- Your loved one is in a better place.
The real truth about death and grieving.
We confuse grief and mourning. First, grief is your own private inner response to loss. Second, mourning is your outward expression of emotions (crying, anger, etc.).
- Death is final. Finality of this nature takes awhile for the brain to reconcile.
- Grief is normal. Be kind and patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to cry.
- Grief can be messy. It is not predictable. It is not logical, methodical or orderly.
- Do not try to fit into other people's expectations of you.
- There are no time constraints on grieving.
- Grief can sometimes prevent you from moving forward. If you or someone you love feels this is happening, seek professional attention.
- Because grief is not an illness, people do not "recover" from it. It is a transformational process. Often a very slow process.
- The grieving person has not forgotten about the deceased person. That is part of why they are grieving. It is therefore, okay, to mention the loved one's name and usually fine to speak about them. It is okay to ask permission.
- While saying it is "God's will", or "that they are flying among the angels", or that they are not suffering anymore is meant as a statement of goodwill, often times, even if the grieving person is religious, the feeling deep down in the heart is that the best place for the loved one is right there by their side. It is okay to feel you need them more than God.
While these truths about death and grieving come from my own personal experience with death, it also is a collection of thoughts and feelings from other parents and families who have been affected by profound loss. Not all things will fit with everyone. We are individual creatures feeling our individual and personal feelings.
There are only three things I absolutely know for sure to be true about loss. One, it sucks. Two, feelings change with time. Three, the bonds of love are never broken by death.