As I write this, it has been six months since I lost my middle son, James, to a tragic choking accident. It has been the longest and hardest six months of my life. Needless to say, he was precious to me, as are my other two sons. Beyond that, he was my writing partner, my fellow musician, my fellow recording studio technician, often my musical mentor, my neighbor, my personal comedian, and my dear friend. In case any of you out there have had to deal with, or are dealing with, major loss and you are not aware of the Five Stages Of Grief, I thought I would just discuss them in hopes they may help you as they have me.
The first time I was made aware of these stages was about 37 years ago when I lost my best friend from high school. The grief stages were shared to me by another friend and I was amazed at how I realized I was going through the stages without ever hearing of them in a categorized way. One feels all alone at times like this, but it should be known, you are not alone. Even with the outpouring of more than one thousand condolences by mail, phone calls, and Facebook, I still felt all alone at times. My thanks and love to all of you for reminding me that I was not in this by myself.
Categorizing these stages of grief by no means makes it a simple process to grieve, as we all grieve differently. It also doesn’t pretend to finally get you through the process and make everything right again. Grief caused by tragic loss does not just up and go away. This list also does not offer an exact order of which stage you will go through or when you will go through it.
I would like to show the list and make some comments on each stage. Hopefully you will identify similar feelings and walk away knowing you are not alone, and that you are truly welcome to lean on me. It helps hold us both up.
Denial: Often expected to be the first stage of grief, I can surely agree with a feeling of denial. My first thoughts were, “This can’t be true. Maybe there has been some sort of mistake. How can this be happening”, etc. These sorts of feelings sweep over you like a wave that you can’t escape. You definitely feel like you’re drowning. As the days have passed, I feel like the wave finally let up, but I know without a doubt that another is headed my way.
Anger: It’s so hard to believe that I could actually blame my son for this unfortunate incident. Many are angry with their god, other family members, friends, and often, just anything that stands before them. But there are moments of doing just that. “Why didn’t you come down to the farm with me that night? Why did you choose to do what you did that evening? “Why? Why?” Obviously, James had no wish for things to turn out like they did. Anger in this context is somewhat interchangeable with Blame. It seems to be human nature to lay blame anywhere one thinks it will help take a burden off of oneself.
Bargaining: Once in the grip of such heartbreak, most will look to the universe, to their god, to anything that they think could reverse what has happened and one will want to bargain away even their own lives to change the outcome. “Oh, my goodness! What I would give to have my boy back!” “Why didn’t you take me instead?” “Surely there is something you would rather have than my boy!” Harsh and not very practical, but it’s as natural of a response as any.
Depression. Not to be confused with clinical depression, which may be chronic. Depression caused by loss is considered episodic, even though the episode my last for months, years, or even a lifetime. We often think we are depressed when we first lose someone, but at first, we are so overcome by shock and other emotions, it takes a while before depression actually sets in. I must say though, that this is the one stage that tears me up. It’s a rare day that I don’t break down and weep. It’s a rare day that I don’t have tears blurring my vision. It’s a rare day that a feeling of hopelessness doesn’t come across me. And there is not a single day where I am not surrounded by memories of my son which bring which bring on an overwhelming sadness. Thankfully, happy memories show up often, too. You spend a lot of time trying to chase the sad ones away, but it is important to totally embrace the happy ones. For example, my son was an organ donor, and we received word that his unselfish decision to try to help others has so far resulted in two people having their vision restored. Thank you, James. Your love continues.
Acceptance. This is not saying you are healed or have recovered from loss. It’s a point where you are not constantly feeling the vast array of emotions of grief, but a point where you are able to look to the horizon and see a better day. I must say, I have not reached that point by any means. I also know though, that I must try to be strong. I have two other sons. I have my grand-children. I still have my mother. I have my friends. I have Ann. This translates to, “I still have a life, and I must do my best to live it and not give up”.
There you have the Five Stages Of Grief through the eyes of someone who is smack dab in the middle of them. Hopefully a personal look at them will help someone out there who is also part of this process. If you feel immune to this pain and sorrow at this time, I don’t want to sound like Mr. Doom And Gloom, but it is quite likely your time will come. Be strong and don’t be afraid to lean on those around you. Some will not, but most will understand.