Why It’s Finally Time To Bury The Stages Of Grief
After Peter died, with the help of Amazon Prime, I immersed myself in reading book after book about grief. Books about grief can be valuable tools that provide validation for those experiencing a loss. As we study the ways people react to loss, we see our own reactions reflected by others, which reassures us that we are not alone, and verifies our feelings of pain. Seeing others’ reactions in print, gives us hope that we are going through a normal process experienced universally. Even though grief is an individual experience, the best books about grief reinforce the concept of individuality and yet let grievers have hope in the knowledge that others have journeyed before us. Some of the books, however, are filled with mystical and religious aspects that do not sit with my own personal philosophy. Several books are laden with platitudes galore, which make me angry and nauseous at the same time. Not a good combo.
I decided to concentrate on the basic tried and true books on grief. One of the first people to study the nature of grief was Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 in her work On Death and Dying. She identified the five stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Ms. Kübler-Ross originally proposed that dying people go through these five stages. Some writers at the time took those same stages and proclaimed that they applied to mourning. I can identify with part of this dogma but it isn’t a good fit for me personally. Grief therapists will tell you that there is no right way to grieve. No two people experience grief in the same way. No two snowflakes are alike. No two journeys through grief are identical! Grief is a non-linear process that varies vastly from person to person.
My grief therapist turned me on to another more modern model of healing by Dr. J. William Worden in his book Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy in which he explores the four tasks of grief. Worden allows for more fluidity and flexibility in the phases of grief. I can identify more with this study but I want to put my own personal spin on some of his stages he describes.
First, I don’t want to call the stages of grief “tasks.” To me tasks have a pejorative meaning. Peter hated tasks. They seemed onerous and burdensome. Being thrust into widowhood is enough of a “task.” I want to call these stages “projects.” As a born organizer, I always liked class projects in school. I worship at the shrine of The Container Store daily. Maybe it will make me want to bring up some old sweet memories of new notebooks and sharpened pencils. A project is something I can do slowly and methodically where I have total control. Since I have no control over what happened to Peter, I need to find a way to gain control of my existence.
The first “project” I had to process, is to accept the reality of my loss. I certainly didn’t have to like it, but I had to accept the reality of my devastating loss. This undertaking requires not only an intellectual acceptance, but also an emotional one. For those of you reading my blogs regularly, you know that I indeed have come to terms with the absence of my sweet Peter. In this stage, those experiencing a loss, must accept reality as a foundation to the process of grieving. In this first phase, the rituals of death including the memorial and scattering ashes are in play. Writing letters to the departed is another way to accept the reality of loss. I did that in spades and it did help.
The second “project” I had to tackle was processing my grief and pain. Crying was my outlet. I cried, cried again, and still cry just looking at Peter’s pictures. I also honored Peter at the fund-raiser we chaired together for twenty-four years which was tortuous, and yet equally cathartic. And then I started to write and diarize about my pain and the response to my blogs has been incredibly soothing and healing. Knowing I am helping others is a part of my particular process and I cherish that I have this outlet in my life.
The third “project” I had was to adjust to a world without Peter. I am still very much into that stage. I was able to take his speed-dial off my phone. I was able to make my son my new ICE contact. I was able to travel a bit by myself without crumpling like “a bunch of broccoli”, to quote Mel Brooks. I am aware that the only way through grief is to hit it head on. I am committed to work hard at adapting to my “new normal” by working with a therapist and grief group to get my feelings and tears out in the open in a safe and trusted environment.
The fourth “project” according to Dr. Worden is finding a way to maintain a connection to Peter while moving forward with my life. I am convinced that as I live out the rest of my life, I will never ever forget the connection to my best and most trusted friend and lover. I know, in order to survive, I will have to find a way through this last project where I learn to grow from grief. At this stage in my healing, I am taking baby steps to embrace the overpowering pain of grief and learn from it. I am hopeful that one day, I may be able to learn from this devastating experience. A girl can dream, can’t she?