Grief is a passenger. This is weird because all of a sudden you have this stranger sitting next to you. You have no idea who you just picked up. It could be this sweatheart of a guy who is going to help you recover from this ordeal in the easiest and smoothest of ways, taking you for a cruise when it’s all over.
Or, she could also be a serial killer. She could make this devastating and tumultous and just about kill you in the process.
Even the most intense of grief researchers will agree that there is no perfect formula for which one must follow as they grieve.
Our passengers will all be different. We will all drive a different route. There ARE however some stages that we tend to fall into.
They can happen simultaneously or in a linear fashion. Again, grief will be as unique as you are, so remember that these could happen backwards or forwards or sideways or somewhere in between. Still, it’s helpful to know what one may encounter and that you ARE TOTALLY NORMAL for feeling it.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote several books on the topic of grief and came up with a stage theory on the topic that is quoted in almost every developmental psychology book. She has emphasized that these are not meant to be a cut and dry, here to there progression, and wrote in her book that she compiled with Dr. David Kessler, “There is no correct way or time to grieve”.
All that being said, I have tried to understand the process of grief I went through, when chronic disease hit, and I believe it can be easily assembled into the stages that Dr. Kubler-Ross has defined.
When we talk about grief in terms of chronic disease, we are not talking about our lives being over in a literal sense, but we are considering the impact of the disease on our life and how it may have to change because of our new physical limitations.
I should clarify that I am completely re-fashioning the stages of grief into how they can be worn within chronic disease. These are my own interpretations of pre-defined stages.
First comes denial (or second, or somewhere in the middle, but usually first). Kubler-Ross writes that “There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle”.
I remember at the begining of my ordeal with Interstitial Cystitis, I wanted to believe my doctors had gotten it wrong. I wanted to believe I had something else and the multitiudes of spidery red lines in my bladder were nothing.
I couldn’t take it all in at once that I had a new baby and a brand new chronic disease. It was too much.
Denial helped me filter it in, bit by bit, day by day. I filtered, day after day after day, until I finally felt I could accept what was happening to me.
Our culture does an excellent job of making denial out to be the bad guy, when, in actuality, friends, it is something very natural and even helpful to go through.
Kubler-Ross describes the anger stage as us becoming angry we didn’t see this coming, angry at the doctors, and angry at the situation as a whole. We are the kid at the table who got the tiny, middle piece of cake without the extra gobs of frosting. It’s not fair. It’s not flipping fair, and we start to get angry.
Immediately after my diagnosis I started to hate everyone. I resented them for the foods they could eat and the painfree steps they could take. It wasn’t fair.
I also hated me. I hated who I had become. I didn’t like being an angry person and yet there I was, squinting my eyes and yelling at my kids.
I was angry with God too. Where was he? I wasn’t supposed to be angry with him though, right? This is what many well meaning Christians believe. They believe you just roll with it, have faith (“keep the faith”), stay positive. All of this well meaning B.S. deserves your anger because it’s just simply not true.
If you are angry at God, you are in good company. Many of the writers of the Bible itself had it out with God. It’s normal. I would even say it’s holy. Don’t hate yourself even more for feeling this. You will most likely get past it. Sometimes I still even circle back to it. Just don’t let your perceived ideas of how you should be feeling (or not feeling) force you to walk away from your faith.
I want to tell you something that maybe the church lady forgot to say. It’s ok to be scared and it IS possible to be terrified at the same time that you hold faith. Sure. It would show tremendous faith were you to continue, believing absolutely that all would be well in the end, but faith is also continuing through your fear. If you had no faith, you would give up. But you don’t. You get angry.
Kubler-Ross and Kessler explain that anger is just hidden pain, strength, and it means we are progressing.
Are you angry? Good. It means you’re doing this whole grief thing right, at least for you. Get angry. Stomp on some cans. You’re getting stronger.
Not angry? That’s ok too! Maybe it will happen later. Or maybe you don’t think about things as obsessively as I do. Or maybe you’re past it.
For those of you who have been angry, I want to spend hours giving you a resolution to the unfairness and total lack of sense life makes. I gave more time to it in my manuscript, but this is a blog post and it’s way too long already, so I’m just going to say this…
Don’t get lost in the anger. Be angry, but don’t be anger. There is more underneath all this shock, denial, pain, and anger, and it’s you. You were created. You are beautiful. And while your disease, pain, or circumstance makes absolutely no sense, you do. There is so much purpose in that.
Allow yourself the anger, and know that the cliche of life not being fair is totally true, but don’t stop there. Let yourself keep moving forward.
I wanted to fit all of the steps into one post, but my friends, I have failed. There’s just too much to say and I want you to read it all before you fall asleep on your couch, or bed, or car (put down the dang phone!). So! Stay tuned for Part 2! Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it!!
1 Kubler-Ross, E, & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving, finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York, NY: Scribner.