You never saw it coming. One day everything was fine, the next tragedy happens, and boom! You are blindsided by the boulder of grief.
This is a gross generalization because there are many instances where one knows something bad will happen, a death of a loved one, a divorce, and one knows when it does, there will be sadness and grief. When I learned about the suicide of my father way back in 1991, however, blindsided feels very accurate, and thus it is with many of those unexpected tragedies.
Since 1969, when Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying, we have had some general expectations of the process of grief. There are stages to go through and deal with until one reaches the ultimate stage of acceptance. Isn’t that handy?
Or is it too pat? Check off each step, accept your tragedy and get on with your life.
Yeah. That’s not how it worked with me, and like many people facing the unbearable weight of grief, I had to learn some lessons the hard way.
From the moment I hung up the phone call when I received the news, I was a mess of emotions, but denial didn’t seem to be a problem. Unless you counted denying having that mess of emotions for too many years after that. I must have looked like the monkey with his hands over his eyes. See no …. feelings? I believed that if I didn’t see the giant boulder of grief, it wasn’t there. I can’t deny now that it blocked my recovery for far too long.
Comparison, a subphase of denial, also reared its ugly head. Attending support groups only made me more incapable of dealing with my grief because my story did not seem as tragic as many others, especially the stories of those who lost children to suicide. You don’t get to climb over your perceived small boulder of grief because others seem to have larger boulders, just as you can’t take theirs home with you. You have to deal with the boulder you have been given.
There is no climbing over grief, only going through.
As for bargaining and the rest of the stages Kübler-Ross describes for us, I thought I had successfully completed an end-around those bitches when I moved to Europe with my husband and two small children. Grief would never catch me there. Like most avoidance techniques, this one was not thought out consciously and not understood until many years later, but moving away felt like such a relief. At least at first. Grief is a stalker and it will find you wherever you are.
There is no running away from grief, only facing it head on.
So I repeatedly crashed and thrashed into my grief, a living, buzzing, hard as rock mass of anger and depression. My protective armor was harder than most and I fought against this mass for more than 20 years until I ended up bruised and broken, unable to function.
Not a pretty picture. Until a couple of years ago. I alluded to a transformation of sorts in a previous post, but did not name the thing that was keeping me stuck: the giant boulder that had been threatening not only to keep me from growth but to outright crush me under its weight.
That boulder will not budge with anger. That boulder will not melt with tears.
I think that there is validity to the stages of grief, and one might experience any or all of them at various times. Even acceptance can come and go for some, but I don’t ever want to go back. After 23 years, I have gone through that boulder of grief and am now truly on the other side.
Besides the passage of time, two things ultimately helped me come to terms with my Dad’s suicide. Forgiveness. And the following five words:
It was not about me.
P.S. This is what my journey through grief looked like. Yours may be and probably will be completely different.