Matt. 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 good bye to their loved ones. The echo of screams and uncontrollable sobbing etched themselves forever into my brain. I carried these experiences with me throughout my career. Never once did I ever 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. We had to pass one stage before we could emotionally handle the next. Textbook grief was so well defined. Like a Lego project, one step built upon the other 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 was felt as the wake hit the pier but soon the waters became calm again and supposedly life returned to “normal”. I always felt grief was like an exam. You had to start with the first question before you could get to the last question.
My grief theory was crushed on a snowy January day. Grief found me. You died and my world came crumbling down. That supposedly predictable and orderly pattern that I studied made no sense now that I was the one living it. To be honest nothing made sense. 30 months later nothing makes sense.
Your death has been such a devastating, disorienting time. There are days I don’t know how I will ever reach that final step of Acceptance. Really, am I supposed to just accept that your addiction killed you? I’m just supposed to chalk it up to life. I’m just supposed to accept that I can’t pick up the phone and hear your voice. Accept that you left without warning. Without a chance to hold you as you took your last breath as I did after you took your 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 you die. I was not prepared for the power of my grief. I was not prepared to become a stranger to who I once was. I was not prepared for the reflection staring back at me when I glance in a mirror. Grief has washed my face and lives in my eyes. Grief doesn’t know its stages. It doesn’t know that after all “the firsts” I’m supposed to keep climbing that grief staircase until I get to the top and shout Hoorah I’m done. I survived. I made it through and to the top!
My grief is clever. It’s tricky. Letting me think that today 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 will be better. Today my grief will be predictable.
The reality of my grief is floating on a tiny raft in a big 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 fog never knowing when it will sneak up. Grief creeps up and squeezes me from behind as a memory hits or a song plays. I’m dry eyed one minute, a sobbing mess the next.
I have learned in my reality there are no stages of grief. Grief is a crapshoot. It shifts and changes. It’s never the same minute to minute, hour to hour. Grief ebbs and flows. Grief has it’s own mind. It makes you feel like you’re losing what’s left of your mind. 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. Grief has no set pattern. However we survive is how we survive. The only thing I’ve learned for sure is that until you meet grief you have no imaginable idea of it’s power over your life. The other think I know for sure is that Grief Sucks!!!!!!!