*Published in Elephant Journal February 2022
What they don’t tell you about grief.
When we talk about the grieving process, the most standard response is that someone goes through the seven stages of grief which are: shock and denial, guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction, and acceptance.
I call bullsh*t on this antiquated linear framework of something that hits so much deeper.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I do think that there is some truth to the stages of grief. What I don’t agree with is that it’s a linear process that once you have “moved through” one stage you are somehow graduated to the next. That’s simply not true. At least not in my experience.
For me, I find myself cycling through several of these emotions multiple times a day. It’s a complete mind f*ck roller coaster of emotions and numbness because every moment of every day there is a new mini death within the already present grief.
It hits you unexpectedly. It’s the 3 a.m. ritual of rolling over for a cuddle to find no one there. And then not being able to fall back asleep because for a brief moment you forgot they were gone, and as you pat the right side of the bed looking for them, they die all over again. It hits you on a sunny Sunday morning when the muscle memory of your old weekend routine creeps in — only to realize that you will never have those little moments again.
Grief slaps you in the face when you’re in aisle six of the grocery store, and in the car when their song comes on. It’s a dagger to the heart to know that the only person in the world you want to hold and talk to is no more. It’s incredibly isolating. Even when you are with good company. For no one can truly understand what this experience is like — even if they have lost a partner, too.
No one tells you that grief feels like being on display. Everyone who may have had even the tiniest connection to the deceased now wants a front-row seat into your life. To not only live vicariously through you but also to have the “thank god that’s not me,” talk with their friends. It seems as though everywhere you go someone is offering their opinion on what you should be doing by this time and other nonsensical, unsolicited advice, which feels like a constant attack.
Especially so on social media where grief vultures sweep in to claim some sort of notoriety that they too were close to the deceased, even though in most cases, they were not at all — which can be infuriating. Like fire-breathing-dragon infuriating because everyone has an opinion and feels the need to interject into what was my partner’s life. Seeing this play out on social media makes you feel completely powerless because the last thing a grieving person (or anyone over the age of 12) needs is a social media feud.
Being bombarded with so many emotions and also feeling completely devoid of any feeling all at the same time is super disorientating. It’s like moving through frozen mashed potatoes. Everything feels foggy and takes 10 times the effort to do. It truly is the highest form of meditation because you really can only be focused on the present moment. Anything else feels too foreign and far off. Especially when your mood can switch from one moment to the next. I often find myself sobbing uncontrollably only to then bust out hysterically laughing thinking of a funny memory we shared.
That hairpin switch of emotions that occurs all day long leaves you feeling unhinged. And in so many ways, it’s true. Grief is the realest, rawest state one can be in. It’s primal. The typical human defenses and worries have melted away. Nothing matters except for right now.
The seemingly mindless chatter that once occupied my conversations is meaningless and boring. We are here to do so much more than engross ourselves in the mechanical banter of social media and vaccination status. None of it matters after a death.
When the inclination to worry gets evicted from the brain, a sense of fearlessness takes over. How could I be afraid of anything after I just endured the worst loss a human can experience? Any self-doubt, insecurity, or lack of confidence was washed away the day Jeff died. The imperfections I once harshly judged myself for seem so insignificant.
In this moment, I am grateful for my strength to take care of the bare minimum showering and eating. Anything else that transpires throughout the day is a bonus. My forced meditation has brought me such a sense of intense self-acceptance and has quelled my lifelong quest for perfectionism.
I have also found the importance of having a tribe of solid people around you who hold space for and welcome your grief. These are people who not only understand the sacredness of this time but also help to insulate you from the outside chatter. They are the ones who aren’t afraid to cry with you, and who know exactly what you need without you even having to ask for it. They are food for the broken soul and they help restore faith in humanity. I know for me, my people have come out of the woodwork bursting my broken heart wide open with love and support.
To say there are only seven stages of grief minimizes the utter sh*tstorm in motion that occurs after losing a loved one. It’s every possible human emotion shaken up inside a pressure cooker of numbness. It’s confusing, raw, and the realest sh*t you can ever be faced with.
The time after a loved one dies feels like a drunken blackout where you are left piecing moments together, but for the most part, everything is one huge emotional blur. The pain cuts deep and is a wound that never truly heals.
It’s so much more than graduating from one stage to the next. For loss is having every iota of your being broken and reassembled all at the same time.
It’s so important to honor the sacredness of this time and to hold space for the grieving rather than boxing them into an anachronistic belief of grief.