Stages of Grief: Where are they?

I was a recent graduate with a Masters in the Science of Social Work when Dr. Kubla Ross came to speak. She spoke the unspeakable: people wanted the truth when dying and wanted someone to listen. She told stories showing that there is a pattern when experiencing loss, referring to them as the stages of grief. I was enthralled.

Like many aspects of life, a lot has changed since then AND little has changed since then. We do have hospice care now. People generally get referred only days before they die, missing many benefits of peaceful last days. Patients and loved ones look to doctors, the people focused on extending life, to tell them when it is time for hospice. Within a few days of the death, those offering condolences return to their non-grieving lives. The grief-stricken have embarked on a zig-zag course, finding their way into a new reality without a loved one. Even if they recognize the stages of grief within themselves, it is not a pathway. Rather, the stages are markers of being on the journey. Stages suggest a clear course with beginning, middle, and end. It’s more likely to feel like a pinball machine ride.

The questions really are how to navigate in the foreign waters of grief and loss.. Where is the sail? Is there a paddle? Where are the provisions? Do I have a crew? What do I do when I get tossed overboard? What did I learn from other storms I’ve sailed?

My truth is that we are thrown back to our ancestral heritage. We each have to learn to navigate by the stars we can see, the ones we may have forgotten are there. We’ve become accustomed to computers giving us information, determining where we go and how to get there. There is no computer for the sadness and void felt when a loved one is no longer with us.

Washington Park, Anacortes, WA

We are in our own experience where everything must be rearranged. At the same time, we are questioning if we can function at all.

The life we lived in relationship with another is no more. That certainty smacks of finding yourself having been set adrift. While initially disoriented, one eventually gets hungry and must tend to life’s basics. Denial of change consumes an enormous amount of energy, so it typically gives way to survival. Locating provisions to sustain energy is next. Please tend to eating, drinking, sleeping.  The provision often missing nowadays is a community, where people mourn together and support one another. Those who are accompanied by others  are benefiting from a joint effort, both taking turns steering the boat and also helping each other balance on an ever-moving deck. What makes it harder? Being a solo sailor. If you can yell to someone to throw you a line and pull you in when you've been thrown overboard, it's easier to return to the safety of the boat. Ask for help. 

Anger and sadness are generally stowaways. They will make themselves known at some point. Saying they shouldn’t be on board doesn’t help. They are simply with you. However, you don't want either or both steering the ship; otherwise, your journey will be longer.

Calling on our ancestral experience, it’s useful to give up a timetable for the journey. When our ancestors set out on foreign waters, they did not know when they would arrive. The seas and the weather were unknown. They tuned into the present, the energy of the moment and responded to the currents. Having a destination and staying the course was how they got there. Our ancestors learned to follow the stars. With loss we either remember how to steer this way or we learn.

Please share whatever you learned/are learning as a way to new life after the loss of a loved one..