The Stages Of Grief
“Fall is my favorite season and, in unpopular opinion, I am a fan of a New England winter, too. I’m a sucker for beach days and sunsets and the smell of spring rain. Okay, so I like all of the seasons. I knew this about myself for a while now. Recently, I’ve learned something new. I’ve learned there are more than just these four parts of life we cycle through year after year. There are also seasons in grief.
It is said that grief has stages. Five, to be exact. I’ve come to believe that studying grief and living grief, well, may just lead you to two different answers. When you’re living with grief you certainly feel all five emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some moments, they come slowly one at a time. In others, you cycle through those feelings so fast the whiplash leaves you in a paralyzed numbness.
When you live with grief, you realize it’s not so much stages that you pass through over and over, it’s seasons. Deep, earth-shattering loss has seasons and I’ll tell you, these aren’t filled with pumpkin spice or a coconut breeze. It’s been four months since I’ve written. It’s been four months in a beautiful, heartbreaking, overwhelming, exhausting, and at times, seemingly endless, season.
The Season I’m In
I can assure you, that in any season I have found myself in or will find myself navigating in the future, there is not one minute that passes that I don’t know or have forgotten my reality. But in these last few months, there have been moments, big and small, that seem to emphasize or scream with a huge neon sign that Joe isn’t here, that my life is not as planned. And despite the days I try to fight it, I’ll spend the rest of my life learning to live with it.
It was walking down an aisle in Target on a summer day after dropping Vienna off at daycare. With my iced coffee in one hand and a throw pillow in the other, a song from our past floated through the speakers and the lump in my throat formed almost as faced as the tightness in my chest appeared. It’s learning how to live with a moment that is everything I pictured and nothing I imagined.
I have found it can often be the most simple task or small joys that have the brightest neon sign reminder. But we can’t forget the big moments, too. It’s standing on the edge of a dance floor in the ballroom, watching a couple you love dance their first song into forever. Two types of tears begin to prick: the ones for their happiness and the love filling up the room and the ones of longing because you had that, and in your heart, you still do, but physically, it’s so far out of reach.
It’s watching the life you planned unfold in front of you but instead of being the main character, you’re an extra, maybe a supporting role, and half of your storyline has suddenly been ripped from the script. So now what? Grief forces us to rewrite the story. I’m all about different chapters and a good metaphor, but for real, a life-altering loss leaves you no choice but to wake up each day and figure out how to find your spot in the world again.
This season has been work. It’s been trying, exhausting, overwhelming, and at times, it’s put me outside of my comfort zone. Although, I suppose we could say it’s been a while, 19 months to be exact, since I’ve been in any type of comfort zone. This season has been hard and not in the way the first year of living without Joe was.
The foggy bubble of the first year has popped, and it has forced me to look at life in a way that’s a little less like existing and a little more like living. A part of me resents it; it’s bitter and angry. Getting up every day to be greeted with the immensity of living the rest of my life without Joe is heavy and can make even the simplest of tasks draining. And yet, a part of me has been doing it without noticing because some days, some moments, make it easy to want to live in them, to laugh, to enjoy.
Because of those moments, this season has been beautiful. It’s been sweet and simple and filled with the innocence of new life and hopeful hearts. This season has been memories with people I love and people who are choosing to stick around and love the version of me in the making. The people who give me grace.
Give Yourself Grace
The concept of grace, both giving and receiving it, has been an underlying tone of this season I’m in, but perhaps not in the way you would expect. I’ve been lucky (and grateful) for the humans in my life who have gone out of their way to offer compassion and kindness even in the moments I didn’t know how to accept it. But it has been in this season I learned how important it is for growth and some days, simply for survival, for me to give myself grace.
It sounds easy but actually, yup, you guessed it. It’s HARD. Why is it such an automatic instinct to give unconditional grace and kindness, to be gentle with our family or friends who need it, but to be incredibly critical and set unrealistic expectations when it comes to ourselves? This has been a topic many times on the therapy couch and something I am still very much practicing, but this season has taught me it’s okay.
It’s okay to set boundaries and to be honest with myself and others. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to have a bad day or moment and share it with others. It’s okay to need my space. It’s okay to mess up, to not be perfect and everyone’s favorite ‘fine.’ Megan Devine said it best. It’s okay that you’re not okay. For a moment, a week, or a season. It’s okay to be gentle on myself. It’s okay and oh, so necessary, to give myself grace.
I can’t say for sure when this season started. Suns set and rise again before you know it. Then, suddenly, it’s July and you’re not entirely sure how you got here. This seems to be how time passes in general after grief has met you and nestled its very permanent way into your soul. You pay less attention to the days and the moments; they turn into nights and back again. Instead, your heart continues to find its way back to the person, the day, the moment your life changed completely.
And yet, life has the nerve to keep going, happening all around you, and suddenly it’s been 18 months or 18 years. And you’re not quite sure how you got here. But here you are. In another season. Maybe it’s a gentle one. Maybe it renews, filled with hope and a new promise. Maybe it’s waves hold you down so long you’re not sure you’ll ever come up for air again. Either way, they keep coming.
And I’ve realized, seasons aren’t just for calendar years and they’re not just for grief. They’re for life. We all have seasons and we’ll continue to wake up and find ourselves in a new one without warning. Seasons of heartbreak and loss. Seasons of regret and reflecting. Seasons of growth and healing, of learning to live again. Seasons that are short and passionate, wild and free. And, if we’re really lucky, seasons that stretch so long, they become mundane and ordinary. The simple season that brings satisfaction and content, making up the moments of our lives.”
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