You read a lot of books over in 20 years of schooling. Many are blurs. Some are definite favorites. Some bounce back into your memory at opportune moments. Lately, I’ve found my way back to one of my perennial favorites: Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ “On Death and Dying.” I don’t think Dr. Kübler-Ross had any idea of the far-reaching implications of what – on its face – is a pretty simple theory: grief is not a static emotion, it is a complex, dynamic process. Over the years, this theory has been applied to an ever-widening range of human conditions, from getting married and the “death” of your “single self,” to a serious illness that causes the loss of your identity as a healthy person, to a death of a loved one, to facing your imminent death of a fatal illness. While the intensity and length of the process may vary, there is a universality in the way we, as humans, deal with significant, emotional events that involve a net loss.
DABDA itself is pretty simple. Where the complexity comes in is that, while each stage has some general common characteristics, they manifest differently in each individual. The time one spends in each stage will vary, and while the five stages are somewhat sequential, it is very possible – and not uncommon – to jump between stages in a somewhat random manner. For example: I can work my way through denial and anger, get to bargaining, and wake up one morning back in denial.There is also the school of thought that says we can be operating in more than one stage simultaneously. Grieving, my friends, is a messy, messy business. Looking back, I can see the randomness of DABDA running all through the experiences I related in last week’s post.
So, you may ask, what is it like navigating the River Denial? Right now, the waters are fairly warm and the currents quite gentle. I believe I have invented a new stage: Stunned. All indications are that my sister is no longer with us on this earth. While I may have been able to luxuriate in denial for a while, once I received a copy of her death certificate with information I could verify pertained to her, it was logical to assume I was not being Punk’d. Still, the whole thing continues to ring hollow to me, like an uncalibrated steel drum. It’s like I’m encased in a giant, latex-free bubble, and the reality of Deborah’s death keeps bouncing off of it, but can’t break through. BOING! Yes, she’s gone. BOING! No, she’s not. BOING! Get a clue. BOING! Make me. BOING! I feel like an over-grown, petulant child, refusing to accept that there is not another funnel cake in my immediate future.
As I sit here, awaiting the nuclear meltdown I know will eventually occur, I’m thinking to myself: what can I do to try to ensure my children have better coping mechanisms? Fully admitting my brokenness, in an effort to forestall the inevitable devastation of losing my Thelma (long story), I’ve decided to occupy my mind with trying to figure out how I can turn this into a teachable moment for our (my and Deborah’s) children. How do I turn what so feels like a random act of cruelty visited upon us by the cosmos into something we can use in the continuous process of growth? And why – which is perhaps the bigger question – do I feel my larger duty in all this is to ensure those I see as more vulnerable are okay? Is a part of denial – at least for me denying my own vulnerability?
Yeah. I know the answer. I’ve been here before. If I allow it, my heart will shatter into a million pieces; too many pieces to ever gather them all, super glue them back together, and be able to move forward. And so, my stage of denial is all about denying the desire – or need – to be totally consumed by this. I was so offended by the posts to Deborah’s oldest son’s Facebook page that told him to “be strong.” No! I told him, “Don’t be strong! Feel what you feel! Go through the process!” And yet, here I am, fighting the process, still.
There is a part of me – a secret part of me – that wants to just be swept away by all this. But there is a larger part of me that fears that – if swept away – I will never find my way back.
So, next week, we’ll park the Party Bus and get back to work. Lots to talk about. Lots to think about. Lots to do.