“You don’t choose your life: it chooses you. There’s no point asking why life has reserved certain joys and griefs; you just accept them and carry on. We can’t choose our lives but we can decide what to do with the joys or griefs we’re given” Paulo Coelho
I was struck by this quote when I read it. But on closer examination, I see it as contradictory. On one hand the words say we ‘just accept and carry on’ but on the other, we are told ‘we can decide what to do’ with our joys and griefs.
Which camp am I in? I am sure regular readers won’t be surprised to know I am a ‘decider’.
And that brought me to considering again Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s framework for grieving, which divides the process into a linear five point progression,
through shock/denial to anger depression bargaining and acceptance. I learned that this framework was originally devised as a tool for those faced with, and supporting others, with terminal illness, but over time it has become known as the DABDA model for grief and loss. A Google search will reveal numerous versions and adaptations of the original premise.
I have long felt that the grieving process is nowhere near as linear as Kübler-Ross suggests – though that is not a criticism, rather it is an observation – and I enjoy challenging it in my own ruminations.
And it is all very well reading these stages in the cold light of day when you are not living through loss, but just try being self-analytical when you are in the first throes of surviving the darkest of dark places of early grief!. It is all you can do to put one foot in front of the other, let alone be thinking about how you are coping…
I see the definitions as rather flat and one dimensional.
- Where is the rhythm that exists in the process of grief, its poetic swoops and dives, its soul, its spirit, its hope, its positivity?
- Where are all the words that are shared about the process, those helpful descriptions that normalise our emotions as we stumble blindly along the unfamiliar road?
- Where are the signs of the upward turn that gradually comes as we emerge from the fog of shock?
- Where is the loving kindness and support that others may offer?
- Where is evidence of the reconstruction, the working through, the assimilation of this truly extraordinary thing that has happened in our lives?
- Where is the warp and weft of the fabric of grief’s progression as we move forward in constructing our new normality?
- Where is the sense that in early grief we go out looking for that person who died? We seek them in the clouds in the sky, in the whisper of the breeze, the scent of a perfume, the beauty of nature … and when we get to a more healing place, well … then we find them.
Our loved ones have been there all the while … they are all around us, not visible in our time now … but nonetheless they are there. We raise our faces to the warmth of the sun and feel the healing process like balm to our broken heart.
- How can the spirit of these people whom we loved so much just disappear into the ether? Far be it from me to start any kind of afterlife debate, but I am deeply comforted by those signs and symbols that are the answers to my prayers and meditations in relation to those whom are no longer on this plane.
In themselves, the words of the grief model are descriptive but negative:
Shock does little towards defining that most traumatic of insults to the heart. Shock is nature’s way of protecting us with a numbing of emotion so that we can begin to absorb what has happened. It dumbs us down, reduces us to beings who can only focus on our next breath, our next seconds and minutes of carrying on, and it only gradually diminishes.
Denial is like the mind’s refusal to accept that thing which the heart already knows, and it takes a long time for the two elements of practicality and emotion to equalise into being able to face the true facts with any kind of equanimity.
Anger is the bitter bile that can engulf us if we are not careful. How much more satisfying and helpful it is to take that anger and channel its energy into something more gainful and positive!
My anger in grief has always been deflected into relatively harmless ire at superficial elements of my life – I can become extremely cross over the most trivial things, such as getting in the wrong supermarket queue or being tailgated on the motorway. I have come to realise that these expressions simply deflect away from the hurting anger I feel at my loss and are blandly articulated but somehow helpful.
Depression is truly a grey word. Clinical depression leaches out all the colour from our world. Grief and depression can be inextricably linked and if our world is consistently monochrome then it may be appropriate to seek medical help.
Depression is a low place, a sunken hollow that gently and gradually begins to lift into a calmer place of sad reflection. When it steadily releases its hold, we may feel that we are now at a point where we can choose to reflect on loss and although that brings sadness, it is healing rather than destructive.
Bargaining has never had much of a place in my grief but I understand the premise of it
Negotiation with a higher power in exchange for nothing else bad to happen may help to make us feel stronger, perhaps …
Acceptance in loss is in part learning to accept that who we are now is not, and cannot ever be, who we were before. BUT the upside of this is that we can arrive at this point at all, given the pain and turmoil that we have experienced.
Instant happiness cannot be ours. An entirely carefree, untroubled existence cannot be ours again in quite the same way.
But we are still here, still upright, still standing, still full of all the emotions that make us human and indeed, probably possessing more empathy and consideration of others than we had before. These are the unanticipated gifts of loss which may eventually be ours.
I invariably replace the word ‘acceptance’ with ‘assimilation’ in the case of the loss of my son. For I do not believe that any parent can ever accept the loss of their child.
The wrongness of being predeceased by your children is absolute.
I can accept the loss of my parents, having worked through my grief for them, because that loss, though dreaded, was anticipated to happen … eventually. It is after all the natural order and they were fortunate to have lived their lives in a ‘normal’ timespan.
Though it is impossible to imagine at first, the eventual outcome of the grieving process brings a return to joyful living again, and the re-introduction of anticipatory pleasure into our existence. We should breathe, trust, believe, pray, hope, meditate, read, write, walk, run, cook, work, play, travel, garden …. do whatever it takes to power through the process … which has no timescale and will forever be a work in progress.