Please don’t start this post unless you are willing to finish it. It is a twisting ramble that may seem to be heading straight down into a black darkness; but I promise to get somewhere lighter, together, by the end. So trust, and read on…
Without real in-depth research to back my claim, I still feel as if I can state, rather emphatically, that 5 stages of grief are nowhere near enough. How about like 37? or 367? or even 7? But 5? Absolute rubbish. I mean, I am certain that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying is a genius who correctly identified 5, but since I can’t concentrate enough to investigate right now I will just say nope; maybe in a year or decade or month, once I’m able to read again, I will acquiesce there are only 5, but where I am in this spiral of grief, I can only sense a multitude of other stages. I need to ask: Where is the anxiety stage? That dreadful feeling that what you’ve done for decades is now near impossible to do now stage? Not quite panic attack but full-on momentary panic because your brain is absorbed in sorrow and not what you need to rely on to remember simple stuff like your phone number. Cause that’s what grief is like for me. Standing around with fright too close to the surface, and only a jumble of weak ideas poorly formed under that. Thin layers. A peeling onion of nerves. And distance feels only sadder somehow.
Crazy part, or maybe not crazy, is that as we were driving along headed to the cemetery to bury my father’s and mother’s ashes, my brother was describing the same phenomena in his work life. My sister too expressed that she felt like she was unraveling, and I’m pretty convinced that if I surveyed the rest of the brood there would be this same sensation with varying levels. And yes, we recently drove to the graveyard, the same one we brought my grandmother to two decades ago; two months after my mother’s death, we gathered around again, this time to inter my parent’s ashes along side my maternal grandmother.
Another stage most certainly is the rather loose consumption of liquor. Although I have had a healthy sprinkling of Nine Cent Girl cocktail posts, this type of drinking just feels like Nicholas Cage in “Leaving Los Vegas.” But you aren’t leaving and neither is he. I mean it’s this constant drive to take the edge off, and for about 5 minutes you are certain that bourbon or white wine or hard cider was the perfect decision, but then, and this is when you have just poured yet another, you are sure it wasn’t; but there is no will power, because something is missing, something is lost, and that just feels lousy. So you drink too much and eat chocolate. By the way, why isn’t chocolate on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ list of stages either? Seriously, I can easily eat the whole dark-chocolate-almond over-sized bar; the same one that would have taken 5 days, I devour in an unconscious minute. Shall we call this the consumption stage of grief?
Okay, so remember, you promised to read all the way through to the end. Really hope you keep your word, otherwise you just might think I’m fishing for pity, but no, not that. Walk through with me friend: that’s all I need.
Angry? Short tempered? Flare ups? Yes. Another stage? Let’s call it over-the-top emotional stage. The other day I was having like a tantrum. The kind you see in the supermarket when the 3 year old says she wants cocoa puffs and her daddy says no in a quiet voice, and then slightly louder adds, we only eat the plain puffs. But she grabs the cocoa puff box off the shelf and sits down in the middle of the aisle and screams like a murder victim. That type of insane wanting of something you aren’t going to get and you so are majorly distressed that within seconds your anger escalates and you are crying and yelling and nothing is making sense but you don’t realize that because you are, in fact, as crazy as a 3 year old. Grief. Same as a wacko toddler. Out of your mind at times. No clue what this world is going to be for you anymore.
The common factor are all of these “Stages” are symptoms, because when you lose something precious, something valuable, something irreplaceable, that sorrow messes with your everyday life. Of course you run hell-bent looking every which way trying to find them. You run into walls. You feel separation. You do what you can to not feel their absence. This is grief after all. And on a Saturday night or a Monday morning, you really don’t want to root around in that murky dank territory. But you must. Walk through. Get out the other side. That much I do know.
Thankfully, there are people swirling around me, grounding me, and offering a way out of this 3 year old mindset. They are a relief from the, yes, desperate part of grief. My dearest sweetheart took my hand and brought me outside to our slightly gravely but mostly dirt driveway, and drew a circle with her foot. She motioned me inside and encouraged me to sink my heels down and feel the gravity. Feel the pull into my body down out of my head. Nothing about this driveway experience felt instantaneous, but the image was powerful enough to help later that day and the day after and maybe even still if I concentrate. Gravity: the earth’s pull. The connections that hold us tight. That which even death cannot tear asunder.
And my yoga teacher reminded me to trust. You are stronger than you think, she announced to all of us as we moved into a deep back bend. She was right. I did not topple over. In fact, I did feel stronger than I thought. I found myself believing.
And there is also family. After the cemetery internment and luncheon we went to the same beach in Belle Terre that my great-grandfather brought his 10 to, and those ten brought theirs too, and down the generations to me and mine, and here we were again. Water people. Collecting white rocks. Looking across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut. Staring at blue blue, wonderful blue. Wading deep into the salt water, talking out the difficult days, reminiscing about the bygone years, sharing our fragile states, and tentatively, facing an uncertain future.
Out there, on the horizon, during the coming months, grief will look and feel different, but with all this crazy love there will be intermittent bright days like this one. Days when the sunshine does not quit. Days when feeling 3 years old might also include a whole lot of laughter and joy. After all, isn’t that the very point of living? Yes, we are stronger than we think. We will not break.
**Photo cred goes to my sweetheart, my baby brother, my darling niece, and fabulous cousin. Yes, it takes a village!