Today is not a good day. I’m not sure why it’s different than yesterday or several days ago, but it’s just not good. This is an example of how unpredictable grief is.
There is a lot written about the stages of grief. While I agree on the emotions you experience, there is nothing predictable other than it’s unpredictability. Many describe it coming in waves, first the waves are one after the other, fierce and relentless, knocking you off your feet. Over time, they start to get farther apart and gradually aren’t as large, maybe knocking you off balance, but no longer knocking you down. Eventually the water becomes calm, with occasional waves that you hardly notice, just enough to make you aware grief is still present. Then one day, a big wave comes and knocks you down, but you get up, easier this time and wait for the next one never knowing when it may hit.
I think of grief as a journey. The ticket would say: Departure Date: Immediate Arrival: TBA Destination: A Different You
What To Pack: In your backpack, you will carry many emotions, each having weight, causing your load to be extremely heavy. Depending on your personal situation, the weight of your pack will be different, just as your grief is different.
The first of these emotions is often shock. In our situation, the news of Ricks diagnosis was and remains a shock. I received the call with the news on February 27th at work. I knew, without a doubt, how serious it was and that time was most likely short. I broke this news to my daughters and granddaughters first, leaving them in tears to return home and tell Rick. To say we were shocked is an understatement. We sat in silence for what seemed like hours, but probably was only a few minutes. Honestly, I think I am still in shock and have never really been able to process the news. I will never forget his facial expression.
Denial is often packed along with Shock. Often these experiences are unexpected and how can someone be there one moment and gone the next? How can someone be working and driving and planning their summer and in an instant that is over? How can a marriage start with love and respect and end in anger and hatred? How can a beautiful child be ok one day and get a catastrophic diagnosis affecting the rest of their life and the lives of those who love them? These are grieving experiences also. Going through denial is inevitable, not only do we not want to believe these things, but how can we when at one point it all seemed normal. As denial wanes and reality sets in, there is often anger in your pack as well.
I’ve never been angry, but it is a very normal and natural response to grief. I have met many for whom anger is a major obstacle in their grief journey. Anger can be at family, friends, employers, the legal system and even God. It is a volatile emotion weighing down the pack. I’ve never felt like I had a target for anger, but I understand and respect those who carry this weight. I guess I could be angry at Cancer, but that is an intangible so it doesn’t work for me.
Many wrestle with suicidal thoughts, wanting to be with the one they have lost. I’ve learned it doesn’t mean they don’t love their family they still have, but just that living without that loved one seems insurmountable. If someone has an existing mental health challenge, this can feel like another enormous battle. Those that live with anxiety and depression can be severely affected by loss and grief. Sometimes this is the first experience with anxiety or depression following loss. Again it makes the load unbearable at times.
Another emotion often weighing us down is the “G” word Guilt. Sometimes I think back and wonder if I missed something. I’m a nurse, did I miss something that could have changed the outcome? I know everyone says don’t do that, but that is my reality. I know it would not have been purposeful or intentional, but I do wonder. Those are the feelings of someone grieving whether they make sense or not. I’ve experienced this so much in childbirth where there is a poor outcome and the first words from the distraught mother are “what did I do to cause this?” See it doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else if it makes sense to you. I learned the definition of guilt is “intent to do harm”. No one intends to harm their loved ones, but it is something we have to work through in our own time.
These are just a few of the raw emotions that take up space in our backpack and in our mind. As we walk the maze, we start to unpack and place these emotions gently to the side, but before that can happen, we need to feel them and deal with them in a healthy and constructive way. Those that are willing to walk beside us, will help us do that, mostly listening and being present for us. What works for one is different for another. Advice, though well meaning can fall flat because there is no “one size fits all”. Sometimes these emotions return and we repack them, until, once again, we are ready to place them aside.
I am busy unpacking as I walk the maze, but it is a slow and arduous process. It requires patience and perseverance. It requires intense emotional work. So today was not a good day and the backpack is heavy, but maybe tomorrow will be, and I’ll lighten my load.