“It’s been a long day without you, my friend, and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again. We’ve come a long way from where we began. Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”. (See You Again, Wiz Khalifa)
Since my sister passed a couple of weeks ago, inspired by people who heard the news and shared their stories, I have been thinking deeply about the grieving process.
When my father passed decades ago, grief was an ugly stranger that I chose to put in a corner and ignore. That initially didn’t turn out so well, but over the years, through various experiences, including mine personally and as a bereavement facilitator, I’ve learned to accept grief as much as a friend as any other emotion.
Sitting in a college class about death and dying in the 1980s, I was introduced to the five stages of dying explained by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I applied these to grief and dying and thought what she had to say was all bunk. How could death or grief be simplified into a series of stages? My mind was a tangled mess when my father passed, and every time there was a new death to grieve, my mind was a mess again. My curiosity was awakened, and so was my heart. I questioned the professor and challenged the material presented. I knew there was more to explore about the dying and grieving process. Indeed, the dying and grieving process is not as simple as following prescribed steps.
Here are truths grief has taught me.
- When there is loss, there is grief. It requires healing that no one can deny. How we heal is as individual as each situation.
- We grieve losses with which we are and are not intimately close; people and circumstances we don’t know — even those we don’t like.
- Light always exists in darkness.
- It is not in trauma we are to search for the meaning of life but in the healing. This is where we learn our lessons, come to an understanding, and expand our light.
- Each situation builds on the previous. Altogether, this is our life experience and our purpose.
- We learn to love our experiences and all their messiness.
- We don’t want to talk about stages or processes while grieving. We just want to talk and have someone listen. This is more than okay; it’s necessary.
- Loss is loss. It’s not a blessing, a test, or a contest. Our loss is the worst.
- Breathe through vulnerability.
- Every moment has meaning, and every moment stands on its own as a miracle.
Years after my class experience, I learned that Kubler-Ross expanded her perspective and stressed the five stages were descriptive, not prescriptive. She expressed frustration that researchers and presenters had misunderstood her intent. I’m grateful she had the courage to begin a discussion that has lasted past her death and initiated my healing.
None of us will likely be grateful for our loss, but we can find gratitude in the experience.