Navigating Grief

griefMany people think grief means deep sadness, particularly due to the death of a loved one.   But grief is more than that, it is a process we as humans must go through to come to acceptance with any loss, from the death of a loved one to the end of a relationship or the end of a dream or a life phase.  According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  What makes this path hard to navigate is the fact that after working though each of the first four stages, all of which are painful, all you get is acceptance.   Not happiness.  Not peace.   The sadness continues to echo in your life as one of those things you cannot change mentioned in the Serenity Prayer, but at least you accept it.

Once again, I am grieving, not a death but the end of a life-phase that brought me great joy.   When we moved to Utah three years ago, we did so because our daughter and son-in-law told us they would be staying.  I read that as a promise.  Apparently, they did not.   My son-in-law has accepted a very lucrative position in Dallas TX and they will be moving soon, taking our three grandchildren with them.   As we awaited their decision, I battled with denial, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t go even though my wife and I both thought they wouldn’t turn down the opportunity, particularly because their Utah experience has not been great.  When the decision came, I tried to accept it with grace but anger was waiting for me.  I am an easy target, because, like many men, I hate to cry so much that anger can be a relief.   Two days later, I woke up crying and continued to do so for an hour.   I felt the anger lift and even wrote some conciliatory texts to my daughter.

I have never understood what bargaining means it the context of the death of a loved one … what bargain can you make when someone is dead?   But in this situation, I would learn about it.   I found my anger rising again, and I thought maybe I wasn’t through with the anger stage after all.   It is well known that the grieving process is not always linear, that we may jump back and forth between stages,   But this time the anger was different, punitive … I wanted to lash out, to hurt, to punish my daughter for their choice.  I didn’t like my own impulses but I seemed unable to stop.  Then I realized … I was bargaining, trying to find something I could say that would make them change their minds.   Last night I sent my daughter an email expressing my disappointment with their decision.  I clearly said that I felt they were breaking a promise and that their decision was wrong.    I said (and hopeful meant) that these were my last words on the subject.  Then, I slept soundly.

grey ghostAm I ready for the Grey Ghost of depression?  It doesn’t feel that way yet but this sad situation will drag on as we watch them sell their house, pack, and move.  I can’t imagine what it will be like to say good bye.  But eventually the Grey Ghost will have his way with me and I’ll accept that they are gone.  We will try to make more friends here and see what comes next.   Eventually, we will travel to see them, but these old bodies don’t travel like they used to.  It won’t be frequent.

If you’ll excuse me now, I need to have a cry.

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