The TRUTH About Navigating Grief: There’s More Than Five Stops & No Detour

September 6, 2017

I’m sure you’ve heard about the five stages of grief. It actually has a fancier name. It’s called the Kübler-Ross model, developed by a Swiss psychologist back in the 60’s. She identified five (as if) stages of grief: Denial & Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. The scientist admitted not everyone experiences these things, and certainly not in order. (Duh, said everyone who’s ever grieved). Five stages sounds so neat and tidy, doesn’t it? It sounds like a road map out of this place. It sounds surmountable. I mean, there’s ONLY five things. Except I think by five things she actually meant five THOUSAND and five things. At least that’s been my experience. So today, for my own benefit and perhaps for yours, I’m going to document the phases of grief (edited down to just the top 30) I’ve been through so far in my first 17 months of grief. These aren’t necessarily in order, because I can’t begin to remember the sequence in which they occurred.

  1. Shock. 

This is that first few days/week/months. I floated in and out of reality. I was mostly in shock. I can’t tell you if I was eating or showering. I can’t tell you much of anything because I was a shell of a person. When I DID eat, food didn’t have taste. I felt almost out-of-body during this time. Going through the motions of living, but not being present in any way, shape or form. I suppose this could be in Kubler’s “denial & isolation” category, but it was bigger than that. It’s like I wasn’t present and floated in and out of consciousness about the situation. I think shock describes it best.

2.  Inappropriateness.

This stage intertwined with shock. They weren’t clean cut, separated phases. This is where I brought guests to the area of our home where my husband died. (Why?!). This is where I told people he had the best funeral ever! (Seriously?). This is where I shared things that just didn’t sound right to a normal, non-grieving person. These are things I would’ve never said or done if I were my old, normal self. It’s like grief ate my filter.

  1. Crying at Target.

I’d finally set out to leave the house and try to do life. I ventured out, but every song on the radio on the way to the store induced heavy sobbing. I could barely see through my tears to drive. Then once AT the store, something seemingly insignificant would cause more bawling. Maybe it was an apple in the produce section. My mind would wander to a time when my husband and I took the kids to an orchard. And there I was, in the middle of Target, doubled over with grief.

  1. Becoming a hermit.

I suppose it makes sense that after failed attempts to rejoin the living world, I’d just settle in to becoming a hermit. This is the phase where I didn’t want to talk to anyone on the phone, I didn’t want to respond to text messages and I didn’t want to leave the house….ever. There were too many memories out there in the real world.

  1. Get me out of this house.

Being a hermit didn’t work. I moved on to wanting to NOT be at home. I wanted to go places, just to leave the house. As it turned out, there were too many memories in the house too.

  1. Spending money.

Mostly it was spending on NEEDS, like a lawnmower, new tires on the car, a new HVAC unit since the old one broke, etc. But then also, I dabbled in things like a new shirt for myself, because when WAS the last time I bought anything for myself? I bought makeup because I thought I needed to pamper myself and look my best. I replaced things that were broken and/or reminded me of brokenness. It was fresh start spending. I decided we would go on vacations too. Life is so short and we are going to see the world…or at least our country. We are going to vacation every year.

  1. Freaking out about money.

I just bought new tires? And an HVAC unit? I have to tighten the purse strings!! And so I swung to the other extreme. No, we aren’t going to buy NAME BRAND peanut butter, kids! I mean, what if all the appliances break at the same time?! What if the car breaks down and I have to buy a new one? What if, what if, what if. We are NEVER going on vacation, by the way.

  1. Trusting God.

I finally quit worrying about money, spending money, and then worrying about money again. I quit not wanting to leave the house and always needing to leave the house and I settled into a trusting God with it all approach. This was awesome and comforting. I had peace. But I often forget to stay in this place.

  1. Obsessing about heaven.

I needed to know EVERYTHING about heaven. I checked out all the books, some bible-based, some not. I read true-accounts of people who had seen the light, but then were reportedly sent back. I read what the Bible says about heaven. This was so frustrating! There is not enough real, God-given information about heaven. There’s some, but there’s so much He does not tell me! Why?! Would I not understand it? Is it so amazing my human mind couldn’t grasp it? Ultimately, I had to let this phase play out and then abandon it because I wasn’t going to be satisfied. I wasn’t going to know all the things. I had to have faith. Period.

  1. Organizing everything.

Realizing there’s so much out of my control in this life, I started down the road of organizing everything in my house. If it didn’t bring me joy or wasn’t a necessity, it was donated. I think it was my way of controlling SOMETHING in a chaotic, out of control life I hadn’t planned for myself.

  1. Keeping all the things.

Shortly after the organizing phase, suddenly I couldn’t part with anything. My husband’s rusty screwdriver? SENTIMENTAL! I mean, what if some day my son wanted to use his dad’s screwdriver? That old fan that’s filthy and collecting cobwebs in the garage? I remember when my husband used that fan while he did woodworking in the garage. I can’t bear to part with it!

  1. Fitness and diet.

I’m going to take care of myself! I’m going to work out every single day and only eat organic foods. I may do Whole30 again or maybe go gluten-free! My kids need me to be my best self. I need to value myself! I deserve a life where I feel healthy and fit. Heck, I think I’ll give up caffeine, too!

  1. Coffee! STAT!

Life is short! Losing my husband has taught me how fleeting life can be. So I’m drinking coffee and diet coke, darn it! And while I’m at it, I want cake. Nuts to organic vegetables. I mean, we aren’t promised tomorrow. I’m going to do what makes me happy!

  1. Fear of everything.

Knowing how unfair life can be is scary. I spent a short season in fear of everything. What is that doo-hickey on the roof? Is it something that can break? Do I need to do anything with it? What is that on my son’s arm? Is it cancer? What if someone else in my family dies? What if I die? Who will take care of my kids? How will they survive losing both of their parents?

  1. Queen of the pity party.

Grief led me to a giant pity party. I’m glad this one didn’t last too long. It was, indeed, pitiful. Where are all my friends? Why have they abandoned me? Why did this happen to us? I’m angry and sad at people for not knowing how sad I am, or maybe they know and they just don’t care! Why?! Poor me!

  1. Seeking JOY!

I think seeking joy is in the fabric of my being. It’s at the core of who I am, despite grief, sorrow and pity parties. I’m so thankful for this. Because this is IN me, the self-destructive or unhelpful phases don’t seem to last too long for me and then I’m back to wanting to find joy.

  1. Depression & anxiety.

Despite DESIRING joy, I physically and emotionally was up against a brick wall. This barrier was depression. I sought help, take meds now and only occasionally struggle with this currently. Depression and anxiety was definitely holding a place among one of the most powerful phases of grief I’ve encountered so far. It affected not only my ability to find some happiness and healing, but it also affected my sleep and my overall ability to function. I’m so glad this doesn’t have a tight grip on me now.

  1. Wearing my wedding ring.

My heart will always belong to my husband. I will never ever take my rings off. I am his forever. It just doesn’t feel right not wearing it.

  1. I can’t wear it anymore.

It feels like I’m holding on to my grief, maybe getting stuck in grief if I wear my wedding ring. I’m taking it off. It doesn’t feel healthy to wear it.

  1. Ok, I’ll just wear it SOMETIMES.

I’ll just have the band and engagement ring separated. I’ll wear the engagement ring on my right hand. This seems like a compromise. He’s my heart forever…but I’m not stuck in grief because it’s not on my left hand. I’m fine now. (wink)

  1. Confident in my new purpose.

I know what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my entire life. I stay up at night making notes and thinking through ideas. I am 100% sure of what I’m supposed to do!

  1. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do!!!

My ideas were ridiculous. I have no idea who I am now or what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life!

  1. Brain fog.

I can’t remember anything. I mean it, zilch. My brain is mush.

  1. God is the only way I’m surviving this.

I feel so close to God. I understand how much He loves me. I know He is my only way through this.

  1. Where are you, God?!

I am not mad at God, but where IS He? I feel so alone! I’m not feeling Him. And I can’t with church right now. It makes me too sad and reminds me of how my life used to be.

  1. Sorry, God.

Oh, God! Forgive me for doubting you. I’m sorry my faith was small and I wasn’t feeling you. I need church. I need you. You’re my only way through this.

  1. I love this life, but it’s not where it’s at.

This is not my home. This life isn’t where it’s at. I’ll do my best while I’m here, but if Jesus wants to return today, I’m 100% cool with that.

  1. Dating.

Just kidding. That thought lasted half of a milli-second. Not happening anytime soon or ever.

  1. I think I’m healing!

I feel good. I feel more happy moments than sad. I’m crying less. I am excited about my future.

  1. Randomly repeat Numbers 1-29 and throw in a few extras for fun.

I’m learning that grief is much like regular life except bigger and worse. Way worse. There’s no way grief can be limited to five stages. There’s always a new one and it’s likely to appear just when you think you’re doing well. It’s like grief senses when you’re feeling like you just might make it, like you have grief handled. That’s when it shows up with something new. I’m learning to just go with it, because soon it will change again. If I know the phase I’m in is temporary, it helps in riding it out. Much like “normal” life, grieving is full of ups and downs, progress and regression. Also like regular life, I’m realizing I have little control. Acknowledging that helps. Remembering who IS in control helps. Focusing on what I CAN control helps. The farther down the road I get, I’m discovering there’s no road map AROUND grief, only a path THROUGH it.

I’m also realizing that just because I am continually experiencing new phases of grief, doesn’t mean I’m stuck. I’m no more stuck in grief than I am stuck in this life. Grief IS part of life. I just can’t let it hold more weight than joy in the long term. Maybe I’ve just encountered grief sooner or more closely than those worrying I’m stuck in it? Maybe? Anyway, I’m doing my best. Every day I’m tackling a new thing and my hunch is you are too. I think that’s pretty amazing of us.

How about you? Any of this sound familiar? Do you have any other stages of grief to add to the list? I’d love to hear them! The good, the bad, the ugly and the funny. Chances are, you’re NOT alone. Comment below and tell me!

Extra grace,

Jodi

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15 Comments

  • Reply Missi Gwaltney-Shehorn September 6, 2017 at 11:36 am

    #3 Sounds very familiar. I have what I call “bathroom stall moments”. You know, the times at the baseball field, the basketball game, orientation for middle school….etc where I would end up in the stall so the kids didn’t see me cry. I remember my youngest son’s middle school orientation…I literally cried through the entire thing; start to finish. Was this a monumental orientation? Not really. It was just one more thing his dad would never attend. My all time favorite event: The Father-Son Football cookout! When I asked my son who he would like to go with him, his response was “Well I don’t have a dad so….I want you to go”. I cried some more. And I was 1 of 2 moms at the cookout. .
    My son, the youngest of my 3, will graduate from high school next May. My husband’s goal was to live long enough to see Jake graduate from high school. But 3 months after he made that goal he died. I imagine I will cry through the entire graduation ceremony.
    #23 Brain fog never ends. Honestly. I have done a lot of research and it is proven that trauma changes the brain. My life was changed forever. It makes sense that my brain would be too.
    My add-on: The stage of watching sad movies and reading sad books. I spent months reading about widows; fictional and non-fiction. One of my favorites is Saturday Night Widows by Becky Aikman. Were their feelings the same? Is there something wrong with me? I would watch sad movies….only if they had a happy ending. That would give me hope. I thought “See they can do it and so can you!”
    It helped that I had a friend who lost her husband around the same time. We weren’t actually friends until they passed, we were just neighbors before. After her husband died I reached out to her. My words of wisdom to her: Welcome to the club no one wants to join. It sucks.” (I didn’t say it was poetic).
    I have much more to add….but this is enough for today. Grief and loss have changed a lot about me. I shake my head at people who make lofty long-term life goals. I did that too, once in my life. And then life body slammed me to the ground, threw rocks at me, and laughed.
    You are correct that this is not our home. I try hard to remember. I had a client recently who said “maybe this is heaven”. My thought: , “If this is heaven I’m gonna be pissed. I was promised a whole lot more”.
    Thanks for your blog.
    Peace!

  • Reply Jennifer Kilpatrick September 6, 2017 at 11:37 am

    I’m 6 months into this horrible nightmare. Sometimes I feel I’m still in shock, and at times I feel, okay, I can do this!
    Thank you for sharing your journey! It does help knowing I’m not the only one going through this….

  • Reply Teresa Thullen September 6, 2017 at 11:45 am

    19664 Lost Creek Dr.

  • Reply Sheila September 6, 2017 at 11:51 am

    I am four years and six months in to this part of my journey. I still find myself undone at inopportune moments, and sometimes I want to share a memory with friends or family, but I think they will think, “Will she always bring him up?” To myself, I always will. And I walk through life more gingerly. For the most part, I look at our time together as part of my life journey, and it isn’t over yet.

  • Reply Teresa Thullen September 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Not sure why when I signed up it left my address above…………my brain is mush too:) I am 9 months into this thing called grief. Everything you mentioned I have felt or thought the same way. My husband passed away unexpectedly. I couldn’t and still can’t think straight. One thing that sticks in my mind was how I had agonized of what to do with my husband’s ashes. Believe me I totally was going to do this and that and this and that. So, it was a long time since I could even pick up my husband’s ashes from the funeral home. He left home as a whole person. I could not even fathom bringing him back home in ashes. However, one Sunday morning, I went to church and afterwards decided to go to the funeral home and pick up his ashes and brought him home with me. It was such a peaceful, right feeling having him with me. I decided, I was going to keep him with me…for now. A dear friend on FB had shared your article regarding “My First Year as A Widow” 10 Things I Have Learned. It has touched my heart dearly. Even though I am not at the full 1st year……sometimes I feel like it has been and maybe many more. It is almost like time has stood still. Thank you so much for your blog. Your articles have touched me deeply. May God Bless.

    P.S. Oh, I totally understand about how our faith can be tested. But, I always want to make sure I stay towards the light and not the darkness.

  • Reply Gail Davis September 6, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    After my husband died (this Saturday will be three years) I went through an “It doesn’t matter phase.” I believe it would have lasted forever if my son hadn’t been here. I had to at least pretend so I wouldn’t worry him. Now, that phase is back. I’m raising four grandkids (three, actually, Tiffany is 22 but she’s special needs) and I’m afraid I’m not making right decisions for them. There’s a hurricane heading this way (maybe) and it doesn’t matter. But I’m responsible for four other souls.

    Everything else you posted is right on track, except for me, it was Wal-Mart.

  • Reply Joy Brumback September 6, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Thank you for writing about your journey since your husband’s death. I admire your ability to put your words on paper. I also admire your ability to expose your feelings. My husband died 16 months ago. He had cancer, was going through treatments and I fully expected him to be well again. Then word came that he was dying and we had 7 weeks left. My husband was a pastor and I was a full-time non-paid pastor’s wife. The loss of a husband and my place of identity/value has been a lot to overcome. The loss of who I am has been harder than the loss of my husband. There, I said it. No one understands unless they have experienced it. I don’t belong at all in the social circles where I spent my life. I want to get on Facebook and cry, “Don’t you know how this feels?” but I can’t. I pretend I am doing great.

  • Reply Lisa Teichmann September 6, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I think you pretty much nailed it. I’m at 11 months in the grieving process and now my best friend since jr high is in the process of dying from breast cancer….not sure how I’m going to deal with it…I had about 2 weeks worth of fairly normal and now as we approach my husband’s birthday and the first anniversary of his death I feel like it’s all falling apart again. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with all of us broken people. I really appreciate it.

  • Reply Robin murphy September 6, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    I feel like I can relate to all of this. I would also like to add overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling defeated. I am trying to raise 3 kids … busy kids because I can’t say no to them adding more activities in there lives. I want them to be happy. Meanwhile I have been suffering from pain for 3 yrs that no chiropractor or doctor or anyone can seem to help me with. I pray, I cry I scream. I feel like I’m being punished. Why must I suffer the loss of my husband and suffer physically everyday! Still waiting for God’s answer. ….. guess I will just keep pushing thru each day of work and kid activities until I find the answer. I know this is a lot of venting but I can’t talk to friends about how it would be so easy to just give up. Thank you for your blog. It gives me hope.

  • Reply Terri Ellenberg September 6, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you. Though only 6 long months for me, your words are lighting a path for me. You read my thoughts, you understand my mind, priceless. Please don’t ever stop. Your thoughts are needed more than you know!

  • Reply Kathy September 6, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    This was so true to what I’ve been through, 18 months out. My family; 3 grown kids, now 4 grand kids, and parents in their 90’s, has kept me going. Thank you for sharing and blessings to you. I had 35 yrs with my husband and I feel for all of you with young children. God bless you all on this difficult journey.

  • Reply Danna Hope September 6, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Oh wow it was so good to read this and relate to this crazy roller coaster of grief and know it’s normal. I tend to beat myself up for being all over the place on this journey. Your blogs are a huge support for me, having been on this road for a little over 7 months. Thank you for sharing and being real.

  • Reply Debbie Canavan September 7, 2017 at 12:40 am

    I’m feeling it with ya, Jodi. I’m at 15 months. I’m a new follower of Extra Grace Required, after a friend forwarded the 10 Things I know blog.. It was spot-on, by the way. Can’t even believe it this is my life. I’ve blogged my journey on Facebook on a page called The Canavan Connection. I did a recent post about A New Ring you might relate to, about taking off my wedding ring. You skillfully articulate how unpredictable grief is–that has been one of the most unsettling things about it all–that is, besides the fact that HE’S NOT HERE!!!! And regarding this second year–I feel I’m better at tucking it all away for the people who need me to be better, but some things are harder. Whereas the first year seemed to be about legal papers, death certificates, and anticipating the next “first,” being in my second year I sometimes find myself in a near-panic as I think, “My gosh! The first year is over but now it’s just more of the same…FOREVER!” At least that’s how it feels right now. Forever of quiet, lonely nights and companion=less weekends. Sometimes it feels unbearable. I’m reminded then that all I need worry about is today, and that here, today, I am held, kept and covered. Just get through today. But I sure would like my life back. Grace and blessing and comfort rain down on you and your babies today in bucketfuls, my friend of a broken heart.

  • Reply Jocelyn Griffith September 7, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    I love reading your posts. My husband passed almost 13 months ago, although, it feels like 13 years. I have experienced so many emotions during the last 13 months then I have experienced during my whole life. Like you, just when I think I am doing well, boom… something happens. Everyone tells me to move on, still young enough to find someone else, and so on. Someone even told me that I shouldn’t get another pet as they don’t allow for travelling. I know that they mean well, however; this is my path to take. This journey I am on, is what God has in store for me. I believe we are all on this earth for a reason, and when we have completed what God has intended for us, then he calls us home. I apparently, have not completed what he intended for me. I have done the staying in the house, isolating myself from the rest of the world. I have questioned every action I have made since my husband passed. One of my biggest fears is being in a large group. This is a new life for me, and I am navigating through it the very best that I can. Some days are better than others. I have great support team, and have been fortunate enough to have best friends who have experienced this same journey.

  • Reply D Smith September 10, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    A friend, who is not a widow, posted one of your blogs and I saw it tonight for the first time. A night where I had come home from church in tears again telling God that I needed somebody to talk to, somebody to help me. I’m probably older than most of you, since my children are grown, but I never dreamed that my husband of 44 years wouldn’t be here for another 20 years or so. I’m almost to the one year mark but it seems to be harder right now than at the beginning. This first year brought many milestones and many changes to my life. My husband had retired a year befor he died suddenly of a heart attack, We had welcomed our very first grandchild, a girl, in May. That was such a happy time. During the year he’s been gone, our 39 year old daughter and her husband found out she was pregnant with twin boys, I sold my 20-year old business and semi-retired, we discovered one of the boys was seriously ill and subsequently died in the womb, and our daughter delivered the remaining boy (who was healthy, thank God). I did all the organizing you mentioned in one of the posts I read. I hired workers to do all the things we’d been talking about doing to the house to get it ready for our next 20 years. I kept busy. What’s really hitting me hard now is guilt. i feel guilty because my husband and I didn’t have a storybook marriage. I loved him, and I realize now that I loved him more than I thiught. He loved me and I don’t doubt that. But we lived rather separate lives. But that was our marriage and while I don’t think either one of us was 100% happy with it, it was what it was. We went to church together, watched TV, ate dinner together, talked about things, but we weren’t best friends like I hear a lot people say. So my guilt is that I didn’t try to be a better wife to him and show him how much I loved him And I can’t change that now. If only i could, I would! Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I know we’re all different, and handle our grief differently, in our own time, but many of the steps you described are the same ones I’ve been through. One more thing–I’ve been told over and over how strong I am. I just want to scream “No I’m not! I’m a mess!” But I don’t want to appear fragile and needy so I trudge on with my life. I am trying to depend on God always and I know He’s here with me, holding me up.

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