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When was the last time you felt grief? Not just your run of the mill, a friend flaked on you type of sad. But real soul-shattering grief?
The grieving period looks different for everyone. Some people spend a lot of time crying. Some remain stoic and continue plowing through their to-do list.
Despite these differences, there is a common principle underlying all of them. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s the 5 Stages of Grief.
I’ve experienced significant seasons of grief a few times in my life. The first was when my cousin was killed in 1995. It was a complete shock, and it shook us to our core. In some ways, it brought my immediate family closer together. In other ways, it drove us apart, as we all grieved in different ways.
When my grandfather died in 2004, I was old enough to really understand how short the human lifespan actually is. He was a kind and loving man. The world’s light glows a little dimmer without him.
In 2017, my grandmother passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Her and I were especially close. In fact, I’ve rarely let myself be so close to another person. I tend to put up walls but she had a way of breaking them down. She made me feel at ease.
Losing a loved one is never easy, and you never stop missing them. My hope is, with the tips in this post, you will be able to at least find peace.
5 Stages of Grief
This 5 stage model for grieving was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. She published a book on it called On Death and Dying. Kübler-Ross was inspired by her work with terminal patients.
She is well known for this, but long after the fact, said she regretted it. That grief was so complex that these steps are often taken out of order, and experienced by people in different ways.
Traditionally, denial is the first stage in the 5 step model. Denial, simply, is the act of not being able to acknowledge, or choosing not to acknowledge, a specific situation.
I started to grieve for my grandmother for years before her death. As the days passed, I felt her slowly slipping away as she forgot names and stories she used to tell.
At first, I tried so hard to convince my brain that she wasn’t losing her memory. Or if she was, that she would eventually get it back.
It was unconscionable that this woman who always remembered all of her ten grandchildren’s birthdays (and sent heartfelt cards) would one day not even know who we were. Unconscionable and unfair.
Alzheimer’s makes me angry. Maybe it feels so raw because I watched it rob me of a relationship I cherished above almost any other. I watched the sparkle fade from my grandmother’s eyes.
If there is one word I could use to describe my grandmother, it would be vivacious. I heard later on from my mom (I think) that my grandmother considered herself shy. I never had that impression for even a moment.
She wore bold colors (favoring green and other jewel tones). Her house was covered nearly floor to ceiling in either beautiful paintings or kitschy knick-knacks. She owned more jewelry than the Queen of England.
And she was a storyteller. Granted, she had a tendency to tell the same ones over and over again. But what I wouldn’t give to hear one of them again.
I have never felt hate like the hate I feel for Alzheimer’s.
This was a season of life I existed in for longer than I care to admit. It’s a tangled web we weave around ourselves, each strand another promise.
If You allow her to get well, I’ll…
I made hundreds of these statements, promising the kingdom of my soul to whoever is up there, if only he or she would allow my grandmother to be well.
If only she could talk with me again. Really talk.
If only I could see a glimmer of recognition in her eyes when someone says my name to her.
If/then becomes the thing that keeps us up at night as we wait to get THAT phone call.
I cried so many tears for my grandmother. Grandmommy is what I called her. It broke my heart that I would never hear her voice on the other end of the phone. I would never unwrap Christmas presents in her family room.
It sucks. The sadness sucks. And I felt it. With every breath I took. She wasn’t around anymore. There wasn’t a blanket fort in the world that was big enough for my sorrow.
Depression seems like it might possibly be the longest stage people go through. The sadness of missing someone never really ends. You just get better at hiding it.
We are approaching the 2nd anniversary of my grandmother’s passing, and I still struggle with this one. Especially with the impending holidays.
She lived for the holidays. A house full of people. Beautiful place settings. Homemade cranberry jello. Stockings for each of her children and grandchildren hung above the fireplace.
It is my task, as I move through my grief, to accept that I never get to see her light up at those experiences again. And that she will never light the rest of us up in the process.
One day I will accept that.
6th stage of grief: WHY
I’m not sure where this stage falls. For me it is somewhere in between bargaining and acceptance. We reach a certain point in our grief that we often ask WHY.
This stage can share similarities with other stages. It is also distinct in many ways. But I really think it ought to be included in this list. It is in the WHY, in the question asking, that we often find peace.
Why did this happen to us? can bring a family closer together.
How could my God let this happen? can strengthen a person’s spirituality. (Although that was not the case for me.)
How will we live without her? creates meaningful new traditions that you allow yourself to cherish.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked WHY, my husband and I could retire today.
Tips for coping
No matter what stage of grief you are currently in, it is helpful to find coping strategies to make it more manageable.
I fully believe that just because we suffer from the loss of a loved one does not mean we need to live in suffering.
Now, that is much easier said than done. Grief is a pit, and yes, you can climb out of it. But it takes time, and effort, and the right tools.
Writing is incredibly therapeutic. Many people begin journaling when they experience major life changes or seasons of depression.
Journaling is powerful that it allows us to purge ourself of thoughts that take root. It allows us to say goodbye to ideas that hold us captive.
Not sure what to write about? Here are some ideas:
- Your favorite memory
- Your favorite recipe
- Their life story
- A letter to them
- A letter from them to you
Talk about them
I know its hard. It’s really, really hard sometimes. When we talk about our lost loved ones, it feels like we’re letting the negative thoughts win.
But I really don’t think that’s true. Queen Elizabeth II once said, Grief is the price we pay for love. We love so deeply in our lifetime, that loss feels insurmountable. It feels all-encompassing.
But that love defines us. It needs to be spoken of so that it stays alive in our loved one’s absence. It needs to be nurtured and well kept. Your love is meaningful and deserves that.
Join an online/local support group
In today’s digital world, it is easy to find online access to community. Whether it is comprised of complete strangers or people you know, you can even start your own group.
If the internet isn’t really your thing, you can a local church or moms’ group. They might be able to connect you with people who offer the support you are looking for.
I don’t know if experts really recommend this, but I find staying busy really helps. Try taking up a new hobby, one that is not only distracting but also beneficial for your mental health.
Here are some ideas:
*Sign up for a yoga class
*Work your way through a recommended reading list
*Take up painting
*Start a play group
To be clear, none of these things are meant to be replacements for your loved one. But every moment you spend doing them is probably a moment you aren’t sad about your loss. That’s a win, right?
Accept death as a reality
This. This feels damn near impossible. But remember: death is inevitable. Besides birth it is the one thing that unites us. We are all born and we all die.
It’s kind of scary in its foreignness. We have no way of conclusively knowing what lies on the other side. But as a wise man once said: “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
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Not all of these tips will resonate with you. Maybe you find one you like, it works for a while, then it becomes ineffective. Maybe none of these work.
What matters is that you find something that speaks to you and you allow it to guide you through this difficult season. Let it wrap its arms around you. Let it heal you.
I will never forget my grandmother. But I can wake up each morning grateful for the years in which she made the world a better place, and feeling lucky that she was mine.
Tell me your grief experiences in the comments if you feel comfortable! Do you find the 5 stages to be accurate? Are there any you might add?
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