There are more than 5 areas of Grieving Loss

Finding Meaning

I like to believe that writers are always exploring feelings, continually unwrapping their own so they can better convey those of their characters. Here recently I’ve been thinking about loss. I have a habit of saying, “I don’t deal well with loss.” But who does? How often do I think something is unique to me but is far from it? And even more interesting, how often do I think something about myself which is no longer and perhaps never was true? The things we tell ourselves are who we become just as much as they shape the characters we create in our stories.

In my last podcast I was chatting with Brett and we were talking about loss. He lost both of his parents within a week. I replied mine had died within 5 years and how hard that was to handle, couldn’t image it happening within a week! Someone recently told me they thought it was not normal to grieve for a missing parent going on five years and I keep going back to that, thinking about it. My Dad died 20 years ago and in some ways I am still grieving. I had an aunt who never recovered when my Grandma died – she was never the same again. Is there a norm when it comes to grieving?

I suppose most of us are familiar with the five areas of grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. They aren’t really stages because you can keep cycling around them. Grieving is not a linear process. As a refresher, the descriptions on this page are excellent. A year ago when I split with a romantic partner I was in Denial for a long time. Thinking a chance was still likely. Waiting for the inevitable grand gesture that never came. I liked being Angry, though. It made me feel stronger, it gave life some meaning again. Bargaining is a slippery stage because in that situation I was willing to make concessions, do anything, not to experience the loss. And I know from when Dad died of cancer, the Depression stage can be brutal. The fathomless emptiness, the meaninglessness of life, Depression (not just that associated with grief) is the dark waters where suicide can lurk. About a year after my grandmother, one of the lives of my life, died I can actually remember when it sort of lifted. When I thought, “Okay, I can deal with her being gone now.” And found more constant joy in my life. Acceptance had finally been achieved.

In revisiting these stages last week I came across information pointing out that there are more than 5 areas. Someone has added in, before Denial, the SHOCK phase. My Mom was in perfectly good health when she was killed in a car accident one day on her way home from the grocery. I don’t think that shock was different than denial. If so it was brief. A brain freeze hour or two when you can’t think at all.

I even found someone who had 19 stages:

Nope. Too many. Although all those descriptors could be a handy checklist for a major character, right?

So there is really only one more I think is worth while to add to the 5 and that is “Finding Meaning”. I came across that here: Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief by David Kessler.

Kessler’s context is death but when my parents died I wasn’t (and still can’t) find a meaning there unless it’s the act of going through that process of them dying. However, when losing a significant other or a potential significant other (someone with whom I’ve deeply connected and can truly visualize a future with) I always go searching for a deeper meaning as to why we connected and why we parted. Kessler akins this to “closure”. I never really thought of closure as a completely internal process but of course it can be. I like better the idea of Finding Meaning… growing, changing, adapting. It’s a great way to have your character make a quantum leap, as well.

It is important to understand the feelings that take hold of us when something emotionally disturbing happens. It can feel like losing your mind and spiraling out of control and that is scary stuff but if you can recognize what’s going on, it’s not nearly as scary. And perhaps it even helps get through the stages better, quicker. I remember when my dad died I was walking through the mall looking at everyone and thinking, “I bet lots and lots of these older adults have gone through what I’m going through, this is a normal thing so why does it feel so uniquely life shattering?” Any sort of loss can make me feel that way.

I’m rereading the Harry Potter books and just finished Order of the Phoenix. I thought, as usual, that J.K. Rowling nailed it with regard to Harry’s feelings when Sirius was killed. She hit all the stages beautifully and in a way to which I could really relate. She even gave it meaning.

Anyway – just some rambling thoughts of the day. Comments, as always, welcomed.

“When you loved someone and had to let them go, there will always be that small part of yourself that whispers, “What was it that you wanted and why didn’t you fight for it?”
― Shannon L. Alder