Each time we lose someone in our life we have the opportunity to try to handle the loss better. We get to see what worked for us, learn from that experience and try new things that aid in the healing of our heart and mind. Of course, every loss is different, but the stages of grieving often don't change. They may feel bigger with the loss of some and not so much with others, but they still are worked through.
The Seven Stages of Grief:
- Shock & Denial - you can't believe it happened.
- Pain & Guilt - you start to think about what could have been different and the pain is felt fully in the body and mind. You have to be careful that you don't try to mask it with being too busy, drugs, alcohol, work, etc.
- Anger & Bargaining - you are angry they are gone, you are angry at the world and you might start thinking if you give up something or do something different maybe they can come back. You have to be careful because that angry stage can make you lash out and damage other relationships. You can also get stuck her.
- Reflection & Loneliness - You miss them. You remember them sweetly, and no consolation will help you "get over it". You are just sad, terribly sad.
- The Hump - you start to adjust to not having them in your life. This happens slowly, but it all starts to feel a little more normal.
- Reconstruction - you start to be able to think clearly now and can work through some of the more practical pieces of not having them in your life.
- Acceptance & Hope - the pain has subsided and you begin to see what your life can look like without them there. You mourn them, but you start to begin looking forward to what you are doing, instead of being lost in the pain of not having them. Life begins to look a little more hopeful.
Every single stage, in varying degrees, happens. Not rigidly, but whether we want it to or not. For everyone I have lost I have gone through these stages, but in the process I have also learned a little about what I need to manage the loss. For each person in my life it has been different.
My Brother: I lost my brother, Christopher Vincent Wolven, to AIDS at 18 and this was probably the rawest of loss I have experienced. I wasn't mature and I railed against the feeling of despair in anyway I possibly could. I call these my "lost years". If it had not been for the solid footing that my husband and having our daughter created I might have stayed in that very sad, scary, angry place for a long time. The lesson I did take away from it all was that every moment, every relationship matters. Make it count.
My Mother: My mothers, Gladys (Poppy) Bell Wolven (Felt), death was sudden, although her health was bad for many, many years. My answer here was to rush around. Get a lot of things done and push it all away. I handled it by being over organized and busy. Not the best way to handle it because the guilt stage lasted a long time. I learned though that wasn't the best way for me to experience loss. Getting busy didn't take the pain away.
My Father: My dad, Jack Francis Wolven, was my hero. I talked to him on the phone every single day of my adult life. He wasn't perfect in real life, but in my heart he was everything I wanted in a dad. He died after many, many months drifting in and out of consciousness. I grieved during that entire time. I sat with that pain a little more. The thing is that it is so raw, and so physically and mentally painful that to dive into it too much is like walking through fire. I have to do it in small doses or it feels like it will kill me. I learned that being somewhat busy, but also making time for quiet helps tremendously. Time eased the loss and I could reflect with honesty about the good and the bad of it all.
My Sister: Ada Elizabeth Murdock, just passed away, but after all I have gone through in the last 5 years losing our parents I have learned some things that help me feel the loss, but not get lost in it. Writing helps tremendously. Letting people in, when my heart hurts helps even though it brings tears to my eyes every time they say they are sorry for the loss. Experiencing a lot of quiet reflection and alone time. Giving myself the space allows for the stages of grief to be fully experienced rather then pushing them away - the tendency I have. I am such a people pleaser that I tend to tell people I am ok, because I wouldn't want them to worry. So, having that time alone allows me to not have to pretend it is ok when it isn't. With that space I can then do things in the world without feeling fake or pretending. I am calmer and filled with more clarity as each day passes. Most of all I am tender with my feelings, my relationships and my heart during this time.
Learning to deal with loss has been an interesting experience in how I cope with life. Learning from each time, listening to my body and mind helps. There are no perfect ways to grieve and in the US we tend to really rush the process. It takes weeks, months and sometimes years to fully return to hope.