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Five Stages of Grief

A friend said she was once told “to get over it” when talking about a loss. A cruel comment, in my opinion.

No matter if I lose my 20-year-old cloth scissors, my glasses which I depend upon to see, or a dear person, I grieve the loss. I hold grief’s hot little hand and wait until the feelings ease up.

A loss, if important to us, triggers grief stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Five stages, coined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as she studied the dying. But today they are applied to any significant loss for the dying or the living.

Beware: the stages almost make losses sound controllable. They’re not controllable. Losses and grief are complicated and messy.

If I look at my own life, I can see that grief doesn’t disappear. It just visits less frequently as time moves along.

In my husband’s case, he still grieves the loss of his father who died 25 years ago. That grief just comes and goes. It’s real and unfinished.

In other words, we don’t have to “get over it.” The goal is to be at peace with grief.

If diagnosed with depression or anxiety after a loss, many of us may need medication or professional counseling. Hey, it can tear the breath away.

If sad, we need to connect with other people. We need permission to grieve our own way, whenever we feel like it, without criticism, and with the support of others.

When my mother moved into a nursing home, it was a time of grief for her and for her children. We children couldn’t provide the care she needed. The nursing home could. That’s hard to admit.

I guess that’s when I truly tuned in to the stages of grief.

Denial is first.

When in denial, I can justify my sleepless nights. I continue my routine of breakfast, focus on dogs, stir the oatmeal, make toast, taste little of the flavor, do the dishes. I probably look like I’m not listening to anyone. And maybe I’m not.

Sometimes we need permission to just do the best we can. It may mean telling the story over and over to make it real.

Anger is the second stage and fairly recognizable.

Signs of anger can be seen in snatching the toast, slamming a door, yelling at the dog, being snippy about small things. No reason needed.

Of course, it’s healthier to talk about the guilt, fear, and shame rather than acting out the anger. It is a stage we must pass through if we grieve the loss. At the time, most don’t think about what’s the healthy thing to do. Sure, people get stuck in this stage. Powerful feeling versus being vulnerable and sad.

Bargaining, the third stage.

This is where we want to make promises or make a bargain with God or another person. Anything to make the pain go away. Is this the silence after the storm? Maybe.

Depression comes puffing up.

And maybe you can imagine a hollowness in the chest, a slow pulse, shallow breathing, fatigue. It’s like that. A negative outlook, an aversion to noise or crowds. Red eyes and sleep issues are large. There may be shuffling of feet and choosing isolation. Tangled hair and wearing the same clothes day after day can easily happen. Hope is a slippery slope. The color green, a memory.

If a friend suggests a nature walk, there may be a rebuttal that starts with “Yeah, I would, but…” However and at last, a ray of hope gets through and acceptance is on the horizon.

Acceptance, the last stage.

Oh, let’s write it in caps: ACCEPTANCE. It’s so like reaching a mountaintop. There may still be a bit of a struggle, but we’re waving and shouting, “I made it! I made it!” For the moment, we think it’s over.

I look down below at a quilted landscape. My entire life lays before me. And this last loss is a piece of the quilt, a big piece but not the whole quilt.

I try to identify the red rows. Perhaps crepe myrtles. Acceptance. Finally. But still, something is not exactly right.

Ohhhh.... My brother. He’s gone. Grief stays with me all the way. Never leaves me. Like a shadow, there. I think I hear it whisper, “I’m here…quiet, but still here. I’ll come now and then. We won’t need to talk about it anymore, but I’m here.”

I do not try to hush the voice. Its presence means I loved someone.

God bless you,

Pat Durmon


Quilt photographed by Pat Durmon, September 21, 2019.

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