A Moment About Grief

As I’m looking to get back into writing things here for the blog, my brain is working through stuff related to my mother’s death – and that’s going to bleed through to things I post here.

So – if that’s not something you want to explore right now, you won’t hurt my feelings by skipping this post.

Mom died in March. I’m still dealing with grief and guilt, and probably will be for the rest of my life. Which might surprise people, especially those who prescribe to the Five Stages of Grief, an idea created by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.

Most people take those stages of grief as a blueprint of a linear progression to being ‘cured’. You move from 1 to 5 and then you’re all better. Which isn’t what she ever intended, and actually regretted the way she presented them because it led people down that path. As the stages grew and became more popular, she said often (paraphrasing a bit here) that the stages are not a linear and predictable progression, but are based on her research into how people cope with illness and dying, not as reflections of how people grieve.

Despite her statements attempting to set the ship right, as it were, some therapists and counselors, use those stages as an absolute linear progression. It’s fallen out of favor with a lot of others. Some people who are grieving and not seeking counseling also use the Five Stages of Grief as a linear blueprint of how to ‘get better’ – there’s tons of self-help books out there to guide them down this path.

It does work for some people, and that’s awesome.

What I’ve discovered in looking at my own grief, and researching the topic, and reading books about grief, is that it doesn’t work for a lot of people, and those people tend to be left to drift along in a sort of miasma of grief and guilt – unless they seek help, read books, and work not through the loss, but to accept and live with it.

I’m going to pause on that for a moment because the idea of living with loss isn’t something we necessarily talk about as a society. The cleaner idea, the more accepted idea, is that you work through it and come out the other side happy and ‘normal’ again. That’s what people want for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because it makes it easier on everyone else.

When someone is grieving, people tend to reach out and ask, “How are you doing?” This is a legitimate attempt to check in on you, let you know you’re in their thoughts and they are offering you support – of a kind. What they don’t want is a true answer. They want you to say stuff like, “Hanging in there,” or “Taking it day by day,” – anything that, to the point I make in the paragraph above, is cleaner, and indicates you are working through it and will, someday soon, come out the other end and be ‘happy and normal’ again.

If you answered truthfully, if you said, “I’m fucking devastated every day, getting out of bed is a chore. I showered yesterday, so there’s that, but when I made coffee I broke down and cried for an hour and had to drag my ass away and try to focus on something else,” – it would be awkward. It would put that person off. They wouldn’t know what to say or how to react and move forward with the conversation.

It’s not what we, as a society, do or say in these situations.

This can and does isolate people who are grieving even as they’re getting support from friends and loved ones.

It’s seriously fucked up.

Which brings me to a book I’ve been working through. Some days I can’t put it down, moving back and forth and rereading passages that stick out and resonate with me. Others, I read a paragraph, a sentence or two.

It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand, by Megan Devine, explores what I’ve been feeling and going through the past few months. It shines a light on the whole ‘fix it and move on’ culture I’ve been describing. Through her own experiences with grief, the author discovered and describes how people react to grief, their own and others, and how our society prefers to put grieving people in a one-size-fits-all box – that doesn’t fit.

There’s more to it, but I’ve already gone on quite a bit today – so I’ll save the rest for later.

If you’re interested in this, or if you find you’re still grieving after a loss – recent or long ago – I highly recommend this book.