What the ‘Stages of Grief’ Don’t Always Tell You
One five-letter word carries a punch to the heart like nothing else.
Grief means loss. Grief means pain and suffering. Grief means mourning.
Grief means someone or something you love is gone. Grief means a gaping hole in your heart.
Grief means that things will never be the same again.
I see posts about the “stages of grief” and the “grief process” — and I hate it.
It makes it sound so sterile, so clinical, so neatly organized.
I hear people wondering when someone will “get over” or “get past” their mourning and “move on with their life” — and I hate it.
It makes it sound so easy.
It makes it sound as if having something or someone ripped out of your life isn’t profoundly life-altering, as if you aren’t living and breathing every day with something that has wounded your soul, as if you’re defective when someone feels your “official mourning period” should be over.
As if the space in your heart that has someone’s name on it should be boarded up, or worse, cleaned up and ready for occupation, all the cobwebs of pain swept away.
As if it didn’t matter.
As if that space could be filled up and smoothed over by time like patching a hole in the wall.
My niece, Sydney, died in a car accident 15 a half months ago on her 18th birthday.
One moment, we were posting birthday wishes on her Facebook page, the next she was gone.
My sister’s first child. The first to be imagined when taking pregnant belly pictures. The cousin who was a few months older than my son, who grew up with my children, who was smart and goofy and stubborn and believed things would always get better if you persevered and hung on. The older sister to two other beautiful girls and the one who usually had a kind word for anyone struggling.
I’ve learned things about grief I never thought I would and that I never wanted to, and I’ve watched my sister suffer immeasurably.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and some scars like to reopen.
Grief isn’t neat and organized — it’s messy. It’s seeing a girl who looks like her from the back and crying in the shopping mall because it hit you like a sledgehammer blow that she’s gone. Again.
It’s watching your sister in pain you can’t take away.
Grief isn’t something that we “get past” or “get over” so much as we learn to live in spite of.
It’s learning to breathe and walk all over again. And again. And again.
It comes and goes like waves. The holes in our hearts are like the sand on the beach. It erodes and it fills with the tide, but it’s never actually exactly the same again.
And like the tide, it doesn’t really stop.
And the truth is, you don’t want it to. Because grief is the price we pay for deep love. Mourning means we had something worth missing.
And that’s OK.
Because the alternative is never having had that beauty in your life.
Some days — even years from now — the pain will stun you, but some days you can smile at a memory without it being through tears. Some days the pain of them not being here will be a physical ache, others you’ll feel as if they’re smiling and standing right by you and others you’ll feel numb.
Some days you will be OK, and some days you will not.
And some days you will be all of those at once.
And that’s OK, too.
See, the thing that the “stages of grief” forgets to tell you is that it’s a continuous cycle rather than a procession from Door 1 to Door 2 to Door 3 and so on. And not everyone will visit those stages in order, and some will skip a door or two. There’s no time limit on grief because there’s no limit on love, and there’s no right or wrong way to mourn. Those feelings you think you should be over aren’t right or wrong — they just are, they’re valid. And letting yourself feel them is a part of healing.
Sydney believed there would be better days. This is my tribute to her. I believe sharing this will help some of us persevere until we find them.
Though the road be
Paved with heartaches
Faded dreams —
For each new day
Brings new chances,
And new choices.
And LIVE life
For all it’s worth
In joy and in sorrow,
For the next day
May be yours.
In memory of Sydney 3/12/1997-3/12/2015.
Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images