December 10, 2010

The Grief, the Bad, and the Ugly

Dear Mom,

If I have learned anything about grieving, it is that it is completely unpredictable. Please do me a favor and find Elizabeth Kubler-Ross up there, introduce yourself, explain our situation, and inform her that your daughter believes her "5 Stages of Grief" are a big load of crap. Everyone grieves differently: in different orders; at different times; in different ways.

I'll cut her a little bit of slack because she did make a decent attempt at outlining the grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression acceptance). My issue with it is more or less what she named it. Only five stages of grief would be too easy! There are so many other intense emotions that come into play and are worth mentioning. The five stages she named are what is left only after kidnapping grief, skinning it, plucking out its organs, and completely removing all its tendons-- it's just the bare bones.

My stages of grief have gone a little something like this:

First, there was denial. Massive, massive amounts of denial. I thought it was just positive thinking until one night when I was sitting in my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot about to head inside when I got a call from Tom. He told me that he and Dad thought I was living in a world of denial, and that I didn't realize how sick you had become (and how bad things were about to get...). Even when you told us you were dying, I don't think it really set in until Dad explained to me just how little time you had left.

Then, as Elizabeth predicted, I became angry. I was angry at the doctors for not healing you; angry at the Hospice nurse for sucking at her job; angry at some of our relatives for actually showing up for a change and taking up the time you could have been spending with me; angry at God for not keeping you alive. The list goes on and on, but I'll spare you.

I skipped right over the bargaining stage. Like I said, I was angry with God, so the last thing I thought to do was to beg Him to let you live when He never answered my prayers for the past two years to begin with. I can't even bargain with the guy in the carpet section at Marden's (but John got me a good deal at least), so I definitely wasn't about to try it with the Big Man. So, Elizabeth definitely missed the mark with that one.

This is where I would add in a stage of my own: the 'I'm completely in shock walking around like a zombie' stage. This stage took place immediately after your death and lasted long after your funeral for probably another week. Then, it was a sudden feeling of deep helplessness. I wouldn't label this as 'depression' necessarily. It was more like an intense, unrelenting feeling of mourning; just that pure, doubled over, sobfest kind of mourning when you only stop crying long enough to dry heave over the toilet bowl. For this reason, I kind of like Elizabeth's model better. I'd take bargaining any day over helplessness.

About a month later, I woke up to find my new BFF, Depression, in bed with me after a long night of hysterical crying to the point of almost passing out. She let me believe it was okay to lay in bed all day and not go to class; that it was normal to lose the will to live as long as you weren't going to actually kill yourself; that it was perfectly fine to just close the curtains, hide under the covers in your old sweatpants, and just rot away; that anything would feel better than this.

Fortunately, Depression overstayed her welcome within about 24 hours when I realized she wasn't good company to keep and that you would want more for me. With the help of a grief counselor on campus, I did the one thing I enjoy the most: I talked about you. For one hour a week, from January to May, I talked about you to a complete stranger... and it helped. It helped A LOT. But it didn't lead me straight to acceptance like Elizabeth said it would. It led me to a period of just simply coping and trying to get through a day without the pain of losing you knocking the wind out of me like clockwork.

I went through stages of confusion, anger, and guilt (to name a few) before I felt like I had truly found my way to acceptance. Then I lingered between guilt, coping, and acceptance for many more months. It was a vicious cycle that took many years to control (and clearly, I should use the term "control" quite loosely after Wednesday night's escapades).

Now, here I am in what Elizabeth calls the 'acceptance' stage. I'm baffled that this is where she chose to end her theory... like we just eventually accept our loss and magically the downpours stop, the clouds disappear, and goodlooking men, puppies, and chocolate bars fall from the sky to make everything okay again. Well... *SPOILER ALERT*... that is not real life! I can safely say that I don't think I will ever just wake up one day and say to myself, "Well, self, you know what? I'm just going to accept that my mom is dead and move on today. Yep. That's it. Phew! Glad that's over!"

Please, try to avoid bursting out laughing like I did while reading the way in which 'acceptance' is described: "The person simply accepts the reality of the loss." Well that is odd because I'm 99% sure there is absolutely NOTHING simple about what I have gone through in the past three years. Didn't someone read that before it was published? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but you'd think someone would look at that sentence and say, "Yeah... we might want to reword that a bit."

Obviously that wasn't the case, so allow me: If there is another Sami out there reading this right now-- whether she's 22 or 72, or not even a 'she' at all-- I want that person to know that there is no right way to grieve. There is no guide book to purchase or roadmap to follow when you have lost your way.

So how do you find it again?

If there was a right answer to that question, I probably would never have started this blog. Whether a person copes by talking to a therapist, crying to release the pain, or collapsing on the bathroom floor telling her roommate she doesn't know how to carry on, it is so unbelievably important to remember one thing: it won't last forever. Nothing ever does.

If you don't follow Elizabeth's model exactly, or you're going through 12 stages instead of five, or you make all the progress in the world and in an instant slip right back to the start: don't panic. Sometimes you just have to sit back, be patient, and wait for a brighter day to come.

I promise you, it will.



  1. Hey there again, Sami.

    I'm so happy you posted this. This is something I'm constantly thinking about. It sometimes seems like you're never going to reach acceptance fully... but on my own terms and not by a dictionary definition, I feel like it could happen.

    It's something I wrote about at the beginning of my blog, how I thought at that point I was doing. Looking back, you never have any idea of what it's going to be like. And I guess that's the point, it's a process. So thanks again for a good post. Have a great week girly.


  2. Sami, It feels like this post could be put into a pamphlet to hand out to people just starting to grieve! Very well written! I agree, the process of grieving is individual, ongoing, harder than "they" tell you, so on and so on. It's also very hard work that tires you out on all levels. I think your blog will help others. Keep up the good (and sometimes difficult) work of sharing.

  3. Thank you for opening your heart and walking with us everyday people.