Monday, 29 September 2008

The seven stages of grief....

Shock and Denial

Oh yes, the first stage; Shock at so many deaths together and one more at least to come as my adored step-father was dying of cancer. Shock that was so great I was completely overwhelmed; Shock and devastation and disbelief and emotional overload; One shock after another with no time to absorb the details of the one before. And denial? Oh just about as much denial as I could muster if it meant not having to absorb the awfulness of my situation and not having to feel the immense pain that was threatening to kill me from the sheer weight of it. But denial only lasts for as long as it takes you to finally turn and face it all. Life doesn’t let you deny things for too long, it prefers that you deal with the harsh realities head on otherwise how else would we grow, cope, move on?

Pain and Guilt

It’s simply too much to stay in denial. Nature abhors a vacuum. Now that my shock absorbers start to wear out and no longer deflect the reality of this desolate hinterland of death, my battered and bruised brain acknowledges each death, each loss, each severe kick in the guts raining ever more emotional blow upon blow on my heart, and I begin the process of experiencing pain of quite exquisite depth. How I will stand this is anyone’s guess. I cannot see how I have the emotional maturity or tools to cope with what God has given me now. There is an old maxim that God gives you only what you can handle. Oh really?; If that’s so then he’s screwed up big time here; he’s chosen the wrong person to test that theory out on for I am scared, so terrified that I will not cope, that pain and grief will engulf me and I’ll capitulate and throw in the towel just as my uncle did when he hanged himself.

Each second is an hour, each hour a day, each day a month, each month an eternity. I am bent double from the pain and I need to protect myself from any more agony. I am tormented beyond belief and almost forget to breath. I have reverted to being a helpless frightened child and I am lost in a hell that I can’t see a way out of or an end to. I need to run away from this excruciating unbelievable pain, just run as far away as I can, but it’s useless for what ails me will come with me no matter where I am and this realisation leaves me desperate, boxed in, a prisoner to grief.

And what of guilt?; Oh yes, plenty of that of course; remorse for being much too absorbed in my own life; remorse for being far too enamoured of my career and how it always took priority; remorse for throwing away the most precious gift I had been given – time with my family and it was much too late to claw even a second of it back; remorse at never having said I love you quite enough times. I know that I should fully embrace the pain, take it on and deal with it, not run from it but I think God will forgive me this time if I say to hell with it, curl up in a ball and wait for death. I don’t want to die but neither do I want to be alive. I wish I could die in my sleep, a nice peaceful passing and I can be with them all again. I can’t be the architect of my own demise because for now I lack what it takes to take my own life but I consistently ask God to take me. Dear God, if only I could fast forward past this appalling part of my life to somewhere painless and carefree; somewhere that promised peace of mind and where my heart had repaired.

Anger and Bargaining

Can you really be angry at someone’s death? I didn’t think so until I railed at my uncle for taking his life. I felt anger at how he could be so flippant about the precious gift he had been given and just thrown it away when my other uncle and mentor pleaded with God to save his. I felt anger that my mother should die so young; that I’d been robbed of so much time with her. I raged that God should take my parents together, that for someone so great and good and benevolent that he should do this to me. “What kind of God does that?”, I remonstrated over and over. My anger gave way to bargaining, frightened that I had been disloyal to a higher power, scared that I would have more emotional trauma visited upon me. Catholics, we graduate with a double first in guilt and fear. But I did bargain. I cried deep heaving sobs, pleading with God to let me see them again and if he did so, I’d be a better Catholic, a better person, a better whatever he wanted me to be if he’d just bring them back, just let me hug my mother one more time, let me hug her and never let her go. It was all in vain, he wasn’t listening. He was off buggering up someone else’s life and had left me to it, left me in despair.

Depression, Reflection, Loneliness

Christ, I have never experienced depression before; A black, black depression of such enormity that it weighs about 80 tons on my head and chest. I am buckling under the sheer burden of it all. I still cannot believe the course of events that my life has taken of late. The frequency and suddenness of death in my life leaves me a shadow of the person I was. I am diminished as a person, daughter, sister and niece. I am having difficulty grieving because I am confused. If I cry for my mother I feel guilt that I am not grieving for my father or my two uncles and I am also grieving for the loss that is yet to come. I stop in my tracks. I have no guide book, no instruction manual on how to grieve for so many at the same time. Nature demands a cycle of birth, life, death and a grieving process for the person who has gone; I can’t find anything designed to help me grieve in multiples of four. I don’t know how to do this, don’t know who to ask, don’t think anyone else could possibly have gone through such heartache and as such cannot be of any use; don’t have the energy to look for help as I spend my days curled up in the foetal position on the couch that I rarely move away from. I am at a standstill, can't move forward, backward, up or down, can't move an inch. Inertia keeps me stuck, unable to move. My world has shrunk to this couch, this room and someone has sucked the oxygen out of it. I keep trying to drag myself out of this state but I am simply too exhausted and heavy grief physically drags me back down. I’m not ready, not done reflecting on each person and their part in my life, the memories good and bad that they leave me with. Not done asking them to come back, not ready to let them go and to acknowledge they are gone from me forever. If I can keep them here, I’ll never experience the appalling loneliness that sweeps over me. But I can see people looking, read their minds as they think I should be getting over all of this and I want to scream at them to go to hell, that they will never understand my unique pain and that if they just walked ten steps in my shoes, they’d never think let alone utter such a thoughtless, stupid, puerile statement again.

The Upward Turn

Somehow bit by bit there is a chink of light at the end of the tunnel – it’s been so dark here for so long that I can hardly believe I can see it. My life has started to calm. My body is incapable of any more deep grief. It simply won’t survive any more heaving racking sobs. I can’t replay it all anymore. My heart and my head are toughened, stronger, covered in steel where they were once tender and vulnerable before. I find I can breathe with less effort as my depression eases and my chest begins to relax a little. My head is still weighed down but I find that I am able to bear it better than of late. Perhaps my self-inflicted isolation and purdah is coming to a close

Reconstruction and Working Through

Life must go on. I know this and given that I didn’t deny myself that even in the worst of my grief – I managed to stay the course, not down a thousand tablets in a quest to end it all - then it must be true, life must surely go on. I must reconstruct a way forward without these wonderful people in my life. I have to chart a course for the rest of my life that remembers what they gave to me and to use the best of what I inherited or was gifted through knowing them. My life is now different to what is was or was planned to be. I have to deal in facts, what is and not the fantasy of what it should have been. I can feel them willing me out of my purdah, telling me gently that it’s time to let go, that they’ve done what they can for me and they and I need to move on. I hear them giving me permission to start living again. Baby steps, one at a time, but faltering steps forward nevertheless; Progress of a kind. Immense sadness still pervades my every waking moment but despair is releasing its tentacles on me.

Acceptance and Hope

Reality stares me in the face. I must accept what has happened or stay trapped in a world of grief. To expect to be happy at this stage is a high expectation but it is enough to know that I will again laugh without guilt, be me again but with a few knocks and bruises that will heal. I am still me but a slightly tougher me because I survived the worst and came out the other end. But I’m a more vulnerable me too. I am wise to the fact that life can be cruel and deliver the most extraordinary blows and part of me will always fear an all too intense pain and a grief that I might not recover from. For the time being though it is enough to know that I had the strength to come through a terrible situation and the signs are good that I would survive it again. But mostly I have learned that life is to be lived and that I can’t live in fear of the worst. Life is risky and that’s what makes it so interesting and fun. Acceptance means moving forward and planning for the future again; it means experiencing happiness and joy and love. My life is wonderfully full and happy and I can talk about, laugh about the people that I loved so deeply and lost. The best parts of them are their legacy to me.

My heart was dealt a final blow when five weeks after my mother’s death, my step-father passed away. I managed a journey home to finalise a few details that he needed completion on and just four hours after saying my last tearful goodbye to him, he let go. As his family said at the time, he somehow found the strength to wait for me that one last time, to make sure his affairs in this life were complete before moving on to take care of my mother in the next. Only then could he let go. I cried at his bravery and dedication to the last. A gentleman to the end, making sure he was there for my mother once more.

I remember talking with a good friend and telling her my disbelief that so many blows could be delivered one after another. "It's called the catastrophic effect", she said looking at me. "Just when you think life can't give you any more to handle, off it goes, again and again and again, until you can't stand up from the weight of it all".

In conclusion, the model above is a general guideline to the grief process. Each step will be visited at different stages, revisited again and again as stages cross pollinate each other, and each individual grieves at their own pace and in their own timeframe. I moved between them several times during my journey and I wish I had known at the time what I was experiencing and why.


® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

It's interesting to read the steps that you posted and I can see that you are so obviously and clearly in pain... I wish I could send you a huge virtual hug to make you better, but only time heals.
Don't give up, keep remembering the good times, keep all the memories forever locked in your heart, ready to see them whenever you want, and try channeling your grief into something creative.. like painting, poetry or crafts.
My thoughts are with you and however much you feel alone ust know that you have friends i the Blog world ready to lend an ear and a shoulder to cry on.
God Bless you and stay strong! X

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Oh my swett Brit boy! Thank you for such a wonderful supportive message. These deaths happened in 1994 so I am very much at peace with them. I wanted to write about them as I thought it might help others going through trauma and to let people realise that you can get through it in time and with patience. What has surprised me is the depth of feeling I can recall from fourteen years ago but then it was a living nightmare that I knew I would never forget.

Maggie May said...

I recognize only too well all those emotions. I am feeling many of them right now.
I do realize that there is light at the end of the tunnel, as I have experienced it before.
However your writing still rings of shock and horror and losing your mum is a very painful process no matter what your age. Suicide is also a terrible thing to have to endure and the anger you experience through giving you this pain is very real, as I lost my friend through suicide.
Writing is a great healer.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Maggie May - how sad that you are going through bereavement now. It's inevitable in life but it doesn't help knowing that. Glad you have the emotional tools to see you through this latest death. You must be a rock for your daughter and grandchildren. Hugs x

aims said...

The steps of grief - like walking in wet cement. The coming out the other side and realizing there is life still to live. Looking at people who haven't gone through this and thinking they just don't know how hard life is - wait until they do!

And memories. Forever memories. To keep us in touch with what we have lost.

Well said MOB. Well said.

Anonymous said...

Grief is one of those emotions that we could all live without yet at some stage in our lives, we will experience it. And it will make us stronger but it will never make coping any easier because we will always deal with death in our own way. The hunger we feel inside can only be filled by the deepest emotion we are able to feel. And that emotion is Grief which is why grieving at our own pace, in our own way, is the only way to heal our soul and move forward.

Hugs to you, God Bless.
CJ xx

david mcmahon said...

You're in our thoughts.

Crazed Mom said...

Heck, I still hot some of the stages 12 and 13 years later. I'm beginning to think something is wrong with me and then pop, I'm ok again.

auntiegwen said...

Good Morning Mobs, my darling, when you're going through this process you simple cannot fathom why the sun still shines and people still laugh, and you think that you'll never appreciate that again. Your life is changed but somehow and from somewhere you find the strength to carry on.

You are a real credit to them and their influence on you. It really is a prividege to know you.

as aye


Mom/Mum said...

Well said MOB. Well said....stay strong.

Lena said...

There is so much there that I can relate to also. I keep thinking that my grief for my father has lessened but there are still times when a reminder of him out of the blue brings tears. After four years without him. Time is a great healer. It's just never a cure. In ways I wouldn't want it to be.

I hope your post is visited by many. I rarely read posts this poignant. My thoughts for the rest of the day will be with you.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Aims - memories great things and bad things but of course the tags, links to keeping those who have died alive and with us. I now you understand more than many.

Crystal J – so very well said. Thank you.

David M – thank you so very much. I am mostly over all of this. Now and again there is a little tweak of pain.

Crazed Mom – perfectly natural to take years to come to terms with death and go through the stages at any time. I took many years but it has to be said that with hindsight being an exact science, I can look back now and see progress where at the time I could see none. It does get better in time.

Auntiegwen – all said so beautifully and as usual so very supportive. You’re pretty cool to know yourself! As aye to you too my sweet.

Mom/mum – ta hen.

Lena – welcome. Yes you hit the right note. We will always remember them with a twinge of pain and tears and that is how it should be. I rarely cry about it all now and remember them with love but now and then, being a Celt, I will let a tear run down before moving on to a happier memory. You are still in the early stages, four years is nothing as yet so shed your tears and feel good for it afterwards. Each stage brings less emotional hardship and therefore becomes more bearable. Turn around and look back, you’ll see how very far you have come already.

blogthatmama said...

Do you understand it now MOB? Blogthatmamax

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Blogthatmama - understand? Not really but accept? Yes.

Anonymous said...

When death suddenly became such a huge part of my life (mom, dad, sister) I had never, ever felt so much pain. I knew about the Kubler-Ross stages of grief and it gave me hope that grief really is a process and heals with time. Having said that, I still burst into tears when I think about the beautiful grandchildren my parents would have adored, but never knew or when I see a mannerism of my father in one of my brothers. Some days, after all this time, grief just hits me, for no reason, and I cry. I see it as healthy now, as opposed to keeping it in. As I said, it is a process, one that will always live in us.
Such a great post. You really said it so well.

Cheryl (Eileen is my middle name, and I had to change my blog, come visit)

Anonymous said...

beautifully written. Grief is the journey we have to make, the price we willingly pay for the love we have shared. Oh how I wish I had known my would be worth any amount of suffering now.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully writen post MOB.
Grief is the price we willingly pay for loving and being loved, and it is the memories of that love that enfold us, as the grief passes.

Lehners in France said...

Very well written MOB, I couldn't agree more! Reading it brought back so many emotions and memories, but I am so glad for some of those memories. Bebs x
P.S. Congrats on post of the day.

Sandi McBride said...

But yet you stand. You are stronger than you know, and there are many people out there like you. So while you are rowing that boat of sorrow, look around you, smile at the rower next to's contagious, that smile.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

What you went through, the strength you must have had already to cope with it all, the ability to write about it now are so great that I'm not sure I have the vocabulary to express myself. You have my utmost admiration, MOB.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Cheryl - dear girl, you have gone through so much in your life and your continued optimism that life is for living is uplifting. I know what you must have experienced with the loss of your mum, dad and sister. I wish I had known about the grief cycle at the time, as it would have given me hope much earlier on that there was acceptance and that life would go on albeit differently – I grieved for such a long time. I was so completely lost, just lost and in deep, deep pain that it would stay like that forever. I couldn't bring myself to talk to anyone about it except my doctor. He saved my life and I will be eternally grateful to him for helping me through that stage. Crying is good, it’s a stress reliever and I know where you are coming from. The human spirit can be something quite exceptional when you need it to be. When I see what others cope with in their daily lives, I consider myself fortunate that it wasn’t worse. Hugs dear Cheryl, (Eileen).

Moannie – welcome. You are of course suffering a different type of grief – that of not knowing your father. How sad that you didn’t know him. I would imagine that takes a great deal of time to come to terms with. Yes depth of grief equals depth of love. Very well said. I loved them very much, even my father who was complex and totally disagreeable at times.

Debs - hope your sad moment about your brother and mum has passed. I must email you as I have so much to tell you of late. I didn’t know the wonderful David had made us both post of the day until I read your comment. I am chuffed to bits about that and well done to you again for that accolade!

Sandi Mcbride – welcome. In time I came to see there were people willing to help but they just didn’t know how to ease my grief. I was always the one that people came to for help so they were helpless to help me and I didn’t ask for any help either, I didn’t know how to. A smile was such a long way off – that took time to come back. Survival was my first priority in the early stages. But you are right, in time life returns to a new kind of reality.

Coffee – nothing to admire here – honestly, bugger all! I was blessed with the will to survive and get through it or perhaps I was just too cowardly to end it all. Thank God as I live to tell the tale.

Mean Mom said...

That was heartbreaking to read and I'm sorry that you had to go through such an experience, but it was also very interesting. I had, only heard bits and pieces about the process of grieving, before I read your post.

GoneBackSouth said...

You're right about that last point - once you understand what you're feeling and that it's perfectly normal, you feel ever so slightly better. I think feeling alone makes tough times so much harder. Thanks for sharing this MOB.

Wendy said...

Whoa - too much for anyone to endure. My heart goes out to you.

Flowerpot said...

Sometimes life can just feel so unfair can't it? Take care and take heart that you have a lot of people rooting for you - not that it makes much difference when you[re at the bottom of a pit, but it will later. Take care.

MarmiteToasty said...

Thank you for sharing this with us.... fank you so very much....

A few years back I lost my father from cancer and I couldnt even say goodbye as he was in scotland on holiday and it was quick, then 4 weeks later I lost my favourite uncle who was more like a dad to me, and was my mothers brother... then withing 5 weeks of my uncle passing I lost my mum..... dad, uncle and mum all within 2 months..... then my husband walked out of my and my 4 sons lives 2 months later...

As the huge black hole tried to swallow me up, I just couldnt fall into in, I had 4 young sons to now raise on me own...... now Im thinking my husband leaving us was my saving grace....... its amazing what one can endure....

This to will pass..... it will

You are one strong amazing woman......

thinking of you...


menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Mean Mom - it would be useful if people can realise that there is a process to grieving. No oe follows the steps exactly as they are laid out but it is a framework to work within. It certainly helps to understand it when you are in the fog and you begin to understand there is a way out of it all eventually.

Gonebacksouth - feeling alone is the hardest part. It certainly compounds the whole experience.

Wendy - welcome. It's all in the past now thank God.

Flowerpot - ah thanks for such a nice message but it's all in the past.

Marmitetoastie - welcome. What a dreadful situation that you experienced. My heart goes out to you. I wonder that had I children at the time I might have been forced to spend less time indulging mself in the grief. You have my utmost admiration that you got through your situation. Hugs.

Casdok said...


Jamie said...

Hi Menopausal Person (I can’t call you a bag!),

What an interesting blog entry you have written. I particularly liked your references about begging God for help! I am a deformed Catholic (i.e. atheist) and a clich├ęd one at that(obsessed with iconography, thinks everything is his fault, etc). So, I can really recognise your bargaining with the lord. I think, after suffering what you called the catastrophic effect, that the standard five stages of grief are wrong. As you very rightly observed, they “cross pollinate” and, what I found is that just when you think it is over... BOOM! Hit the effing deck again – sadness, depression, begging, usually on the toilet, for forgiveness. Why do we beg for forgiveness? When we have not done anything wrong? Bloody Catholic Church! I have added your site to my RSS feed and look forward to more like this.

Regards from Amsterdam, Jamie

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Jamie - welcome. I guess from your comment you have suffered grief given that you understand how it all creeps back just as you finally think you can breath again. Yup being a Catholic has few compensations but there are times when I have faith in a higher power that is benevolent.

Thanks for such a great comment. I'll be over to check your blog out too.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

This was the most incredibly difficult post to read, and must have been terribly difficult to write. I don't know how you have survived all this - and I'm full of admiration.
I promise never to complain about anything, ever again.. M xx.

an ordinary Saffa girl said...

I am dealing with grief curently, but a different kind of grief. Your post made me well up. Lovely blog you have here!