The Stages of Grieving

The following is a tale of a recent experience of grief in my life. It centres around a relationship but truly, the stages of grieving apply to any big change or loss. Even happy changes trigger a natural grieving process because as we are moving into something new (marriage, new home, new career) there are always people, places and things that are being left behind. Being aware of the stages of grief can help us to more gracefully and lovingly let go and move on in the constant process of change that is life. My story centres around my sweetheart and his decision to end our relationship due to a fairly major misunderstanding and some mutual, however unintended, button pushing.  His decision came as a total shock and in the following days I observed myself moving naturally through the stages of the grieving process. When I say naturally, I don’t mean it felt free and easy like natural eating does (eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full is a total breeze compared to the grieving process!), what I mean is that I wasn’t choosing to move from step to step. It was as though there was some natural, inner guidance system saying “Okay, you’ve had enough of that now, you’re ready to move on.” At which point the next stage would naturally arise. In essense whatever stage of grief we’re at at any moment is a representation of how much consciousness we can handle at that time and how safe it feels to open our heart fully to ourselves, to the other person and to the experience at hand. We start out completely disconnected – in the stage of shock and move from stage to stage until we find ourselves in the open-hearted stage of acceptance. As you read my experience below consider a time, in the distant or recent past when you’ve experienced a loss or big change in your life and notice how you went through the same stages to come to a place of acceptance.  Also, consider how the act of forever changing your relationship with food from a harmful coping strategy to a peaceful and natural flow is a big change that, however positive, has the potential to move us through each of the key stages of grieving until we not only come to a complete and total acceptance of ourselves but of how the use of food to cope has impacted our lives.  From this place of acceptance we are truly free to detach with love from our old buddy and move on to more healthy and honoring ways of being. It’s all good! When I heard that my love wanted to end things I immediately went into a state of shock which lasted about 2 days. I was in disbelief – complete and total disbelief. I kept expecting him to change his mind and at the same time, some deeper part of me believed he wouldn’t and that even if he did the trust and security of our relationship was deeply shaken, likely beyond repair. No matter how hard I tried to imagine ways that it could be different I had to accept that the relationship we had had was over. I noticed my mind coming up with scenario after scenario of how I might have done things differently; how I might wrap my head and heart around a reconciliation should he be open to that; how I will navigate the future when the plans I had for who I was spending it with have abruptly and forever changed. None of these musings made me feel any better. They answered no questions and changed nothing. They just preoccupied me and made me feel sad and anxious and down right crappy. It was / is morbidly interesting to watch myself going through the stages of grieving, knowing what they are and what’s next and challenging myself to keep my heart open to myself and to the love I felt/feel for this man. Like watching a car crash in slo-mo – you know exactly what’s going to happen, you know it! But you keep hoping that somehow, some miracle will occur and the car won’t hit the wall, everyone will escape without a scratch and live to see another day. So, any way….did I mention my mind has a tendency to wander these days!? As I was saying, I started with Shock – that is the first stage of the grieving process.  Where you’re just in a state of disbelief – expecting the person to say “just kidding” or come waltzing through the door at any minute or that there’s some thing you could say or do that would make everything okay. That’s the stage of Shock. And that’s where I spent the first 2 days or so.  Yes, I felt sad but mostly I just couldn’t believe it and was fairly disconnected from my feelings – all but the feeling of anxiety – the “what if it’s really real?” feeling. Well after day 2 the shock started to wear off and the next stage of recovery appeared – lucky moi!  Anger arrived with a vengeance.  I was still in my head, playing scenes over and over and over only this time I wasn’t calmly and rationally trying to explain why we should be together. I was yelling (in my head at least!) I was speaking in “the tone.” You know the tone! The one that lets everyone know that you mean business and they’d better listen up! I played scenes in my head where I was picking apart his letter about why we weren’t a fit. I was picking him apart and naming, one by one, all the things I had been willing to just accept as part of the package that prove that I was the better person; better for loving him through all those things and seeing the big picture.  Better for not walking away; Better for holding fast to my commitment and being willing to commit my life to our growth together. (Yes, the anger stage can make us a tad victimy and self-righteous – not the most pleasant mix. Lucky for my friends I kept this mostly to myself!) All the things I never said, the many times I held my tongue about his little idiosyncrasies;  I could feel the anger repeatedly rise in me and my almost overwhelming eagerness to call or email or write or ……..or……..or….something! I urgently wanted to release this pain and frustration and impotence. What is there to do? I kept coming back to this. What is there to do?  I can be as hurt and angry as I like but it’s not my style for starters, and it’s not going to change anything. If I have the choice to feel happy in every moment and to be coming from a place of love every moment do I really want to spend time in anger?  Do I really want to pick apart the man I love(d) and find fault with all the things that just a short while ago I was happy to love as part of the package? No, not really. And so enters the next stage of grief – Depression – This is when you’re all pooped out from the anger and the reality of the loss is setting in and you’re just flat.  Tired and flat. Yup, that how I felt. Blah, grey, dull, yada, yada, yada. Somewhere, some part of me knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel and that I would not feel this way for ever but frankly, when you’re depressed, as many of you know, it doesn’t matter what might happen tomorrow or next year. You feel like crap now! You’re depressed and dark and blah now, as though a dark cloud is over your head or as though every where you go you’re wading through chest high water. It’s a labour just to be. One day during the depression stage (short lived I am grateful to say) I thought I was going to lose it in the grocery store. The clerk at the deli took forever to slice the turkey and then forgot the roast beef altogether. These things wouldn’t have made me bat an eye or feel anything on a regular day but that day of depression they just about sent me into hysterics. I just couldn’t be out in society, carrying on as if everything was okay when it wasn’t and it wasn’t ever going to be okay again. Tears were so near the surface I swear if the check out girl dared to ask how my day was going, it was all over! Voila, I had arrived at the next stage! Grief, sadness, what have you. This is where the tears really flow and you just let it out. The loss has finally hit home. I was blessed to be with some dear friends who just held me as I cried and encouraged me to just let it out. They didn’t try to tell me it would all be all right or that things would work out etc. They just let me be where I was, in my sadness, with my loss.  My heart felt as though it was cracking right open and again, through it all, there was this inner sense that all is as it should be and that the greatest gift I could give myself was to just be with whatever I was feeling at that time. Throughout these stages those stories kept popping up of what I could have done differently, what might happen in the future to change the situation etc. and each time I noticed I was in one of those stories I noticed that I was feeling very sad and anxious and I just invited myself to let it go.  My article on Hopelessness shares a bit about how I went about being here now even when here and now wasn’t the most happenin’ place to be ( ).  Works like a hot damn – when you remember to do it! Ah, then comes acceptance; Where you see that it’s all for the best. You see the gift in the pain; The good old silver lining and so on. To be truthful – I haven’t made it here just yet. I’m still cycling around in the shock, anger, depression, sadness stuff; Which again, is a very normal part of the grieving process. But it’s getting lighter and easier and it is very early days. I know acceptance is just a week or two away – maybe sooner!  Meditation helps. Time with great friends talking about things other than my pain helps. Time with my son helps. And, you poor souls! Time writing blog articles helps – being creative, sharing helps. My higher self asks: How does it help me to hang on and want things to be different?  It doesn’t really. So, can I just allow myself to let go? Can I allow myself to let go of wanting to change the way things are as much as I do? Yes.  Can I allow myself to celebrate the gift of loving as much as I was blessed to do with this man? Yes.  Can I allow for the possibility that this loss is actually a blessing in disguise?  That, as with all previous traumas and losses something amazing in the way of growth and perspective and new people arrive in my life and things are better than I ever imagined? Yes. And can I allow myself to just be here now, grieving this loss as much as I am? Yes. Feeling the fullness of my heart, my gratitude for the gift of loving this person, even for a short while? Yes. Perhaps I am a little more in the acceptance than I thought? Wahooo!

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  1. Anonymous December 21, 2008

    Thank-you, that really helped me. It is the most easy to understand piece I have read, as well as feeling everything you are feeling makes me feel normal – whatever normal is.
    I hope you find the peace and place that you are looking for.


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