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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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!
- 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!
- 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?
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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!
- 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!
- Brain fog.
I can’t remember anything. I mean it, zilch. My brain is mush.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Just kidding. That thought lasted half of a milli-second. Not happening anytime soon or ever.
- 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.
- 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!
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