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As I researched this grief business, one of the first things I came across were the so-call ‘stages of grief’. Some information said there are 5 stages some said there are 7, I’m going with 5...that’s enough for anyone, and way too many for some of us. Although they are listed in numbered order, it is said, (and I am living proof) that they do not come to individuals in any specific order. Take a look:
1. Denial- First reaction to the crisis, rationalization, a defense mechanism to shock
2. Anger- The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our dying or deceased loved one
3. Bargaining- The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
4. Depression- Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us...(I think I'm too depressed to remember the second one)
5. Acceptance- Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression
That’s a real menu of pain as far as I’m concerned (menu of pain, that goes in the grief toolbox…). Now, I’m sure some very smart people spent a lot of time coming to these conclusions; no doubt many a study was made and I don’t question the validity of them. I am not promoting or endorsing them; I’m listing these here only as a reference to gauge my own experience. It is said that these may not come to any one person in any particular order and they may occur more than once during the process. Some folks may go through all of them, some, only a few, it is different for each of us I am told. I can only speak of the items that I can truly say I’ve dealt with or have at least had some personal measure of. First to Denial, I don’t think that happened to me, when we received the diagnosis it was too real to deny. In front of us stood a real doctor telling us about a real disease that had real consequences and laying out a prognosis that could lead you to any or all of the next 4 items on the list. My personality dictates that I face things as they are, no sugar coating, no Vaseline…so I couldn’t deny what I was hearing or the implications that came along with it. I believe it was the same for DJ; we never denied the situation that faced us. Our main concern at that point was how do we deal with it, where do we go from here, it was too real to deny. Through all of our conversations from that point on, I can honestly say denial did not become an issue. We did not have time for denial. Now, if what is meant by denial is that in the aftermath...in those terrible first days and weeks, when I would be walking through the house and something would suddenly stop me in my tracks and I would say out loud, ''...did that shit really happen?..'', if that is considered denial, then I did go through that; but I do not think of it as denial...that was more like questioning a real event that occurred in my real life, and really, wondering what in the hell had just happened, more like bewilderment rather than denial.
As time passed and the illness became part of our everyday life (that sounds terrible…), we tried to face the various questions that arose with honesty. DJ: ''...what about my car…'', Me: ''don’t worry ‘bout it...''. DJ: ''...what about the house…'', Me: ''don’t worry 'bout it...''. DJ: ''...what about__________(fill in the blank)'' Me: ''don’t worry ‘bout it...''. I was not being flip or disregarding the practical aspects of our life, I meant really, ‘don’t worry ‘bout it’. With what we were facing, the everyday considerations fell to the bottom of the list of priorities. What I wanted her to do was to concentrate on herself, period. Those other things would be taken care of...or not; I wanted her to know that from this point on, it was all about her. I needed for her to know this. Now, her personality was that of a nurturer, she had always been the one to take care of everyone else, so mainly thinking of herself first was unnatural to her. I on the other hand, having much experience at being selfish, tried to give her pointers, tried to help her understand that the time had come for her to consider herself, first.
Gradually some of the pointers took hold and a slight personality change occurred in her, I like to think it helped her to carry on for as long as she did. It’s not that she became a selfish person, that was not in her nature, but I think she did get the message that as we went through this, she was responsible for how she felt about things, and that had been what I was really trying to get at; her own state of mind, and the fact that she had some control on how this illness could affect her. The illness was going to do what it was going to do, our control of that was limited, but how we handled it, was up to us, up to her. We did not have time to wallow in denial, we had to live the best way we could for whatever time we had, and we believed that we could do that only do that by facing head on what was in front of us.
As I have mentioned before, up until the last couple of months, DJ did just about anything she wanted to. I did all I could to ease the mental stress I knew she must be going through, and I think I helped. At one point she said ''I'm not so afraid of going, it’s just that I hate leaving you and the kids…'', I told her that I would go with her; when she realized I was serious, she was horrified, who would take care of the kids (mind you, these ‘kids’ are well into adulthood), the grandchildren would have no ‘grandma’ or ‘grandpa’ if we did that, no, she didn’t want me to come with her…again, her nature, thinking of others first, but I had not thought one whit about those things...selfish Fred at work here...I'll be honest, the kids and grandchildren, and anything else never crossed my mind when I made that statement. My concern was about what she wanted and if she would have said yes, come with me, I would not be struggling with these words now...but she was too caring and unselfish to have me go with her. I never did let her know that although I respected her wishes, I had left the final decision about that up in the air until that moment came and I would see how I felt at that time...
No, there was no denial for us and I’m glad we did it the way we did. It allowed us live out in the open, no mistaken glances, false declarations or undercurrents of BS. So too in this grief, there can be no denial for me; I have to face each and every emotional obstacle head on. I cannot deny the pain that goes with the sense of loss, I cannot deny the fear of facing the future without her, I cannot deny the fact that no amount of wishing and hoping, no amount of anger, none of my attempts at bargaining, no degree of depression or acceptance will make happen what I want to happen; to have her back and healthy. Just ain’t gonna’ happen. So, I think for the time being I’ll pass on the next four stages...I'm too angry to bargain with depression or acceptance, I may have to revisit them at a future date, but for now I’ll let them rest.
What I do know to be true in my life is that I miss my baby and always will; learning to blend my ‘old life’ with the ‘different life’ is the greatest challenge I have ever faced, that focusing on having memories without the pain has to become an integral part of my life; those are the facts for me today, and whether I like it or not, that cannot be denied...