When talking about grief most people have some familiarity with the Kübler-Ross model of grief adapted from the stages of dying.
These sorts of conceptual models can be useful as a framework for understanding what to expect. There is a danger though when they are viewed as a one size fits all model and that a grieving person will pass through all of the stages in a neat tidy order. To be fair to the authors of the model they never intended it to be used that way either. It’s grip on popular culture though means that it’s often unhelpfully misused by armchair psychologists.
Taken from the wonderful Mustard magazine
The stages are more a map of grief’s terrain.
A slightly tortured gaming analogy would be that the path of grief is not marked by a conventional linear level progression. It’s closer to Dark Souls, a number of unforgivingly brutal areas elegantly linked by winding paths to a central hub and marked by countless setbacks before making a halting progression with fleeting moments of triumph.
Here’s a brief walk through of my own meandering path.
The big problem I have with the model is that its stages have misleading names.
This is more about shock. For me, there was never a sense of denial of the situation. There was a brief hope following the first scan that it had been a mistake but the second scan confirmed that there was no mistake. Each day began with the shock of realising that they were not with us anymore. It was harder for my wife as she still had all the physical after pains of birth to contend with too. Shock as it name suggests leaves you stunned, dazed and disoriented. When down is up and up is down the safest place to be is bed.
If these are stages then I’m still there. I have no faith so I waste no time being angry at God or gods. There was plenty of anger for those that used their own framework of belief to declare that the boys’ death was somehow part of a cosmic Gant chart, a bullet point on a supernatural power point slide. I found a perverse comfort in the arbitrary nature of it, that is was a random occurence and we just fell on the wrong side of probability. Trying to give it meaning made it worse. The idea of it being part of a plan was hideously flexible. If no children followed, it wasn’t meant to be. If they did then somehow the death of my boys was the price of their life. Both of these are offensive and cheapen their lives and deaths.
There’s no anger for the parents that did have babies and were lucky enough to show them proudly rather than in hushed moments and with a lot of warnings (“Are you sure you want to look? These aren’t your normal baby photos…”). I now knew that those parents may well have similar stories to our own. For those that merrily puffed away on cigarettes outside the maternity ward waiting area it is a very different manner.
There is anger when our boys are written out of the family history. When my third son was born after his sister people would clap with glee and declare “now your family is complete!” as if it were some sort of collectors set. Our family will never be complete. There will always be a place set at the table for our boys in a parallel world where they lived.
This is understood as being in two forms. The ifs and buts and candy and nuts. The initial bargaining that takes place to whatever is held dear that IF ONLY our children can live THEN we will fulfil promises to change our life for the better, to correct a behaviour to take action. This is the point where there are semi-serious discussions on the merits of necromancy and resurrection spells. Pros being we have the boys back, cons – The Monkey’s Paw and Pet Semetary style horror.
The second form follows the loss and could take the form of actually doing those things. This blog, my sudden surge of campaigning zeal could well be seen as a form of bargaining. The cry that echoes after any terrible event. Never again. This should not happen to anyone else. No-one should have to know and feel this pain.
One thing I don’t subscribe to is the sudden personality shifts. I don’t live my life to the full and I certainly don’t live each day as my last. That’s a horrible day. Imagine having to make all the farewell phonecalls again and again. I’ve never bought into it as a philosophy because it ignores the conequences of when it isn’t your last day and all the things you said and did come back to bite you. Probably on the face.
That’s me though. It would be dishonest to claim that nothing changed because it did. It was the return to work that showed me how deeply unhappy I was there and of the things I could control this was one of them.
This one is more obvious. It would be odd to not feel depressed after losing children. It’s not the natural order, it isn’t spoken about and an unspoken social code may work to further isolate and punish you for your state. The underlying sense of sadness under any fleeting glimpse of joy. The guilt that comes with laughter, for daring to enjoy yourself.
There are many ways to describe depression and each has its own neat poetry. For some it is the Black Dog, for Lewis Wolpert it is a malignant sadness and for others it can be best described as rage turned inward. A frustration and rage that can never be acted upon so it fixes on the only safe available target. It can be physical. A feeling of spiders running through the blood or barbed wire poking through the skin warning people to stay away. It can be being walled into a circular tower and poking out a brick to shout for help only to then replace the brick and run to the other side when someone responds.
It is a soul sucking weariness that makes the simplest task incomprehensibly complex, a daunting challenge far beyond whatever abilities you once had.
And after that *poof* acceptance! Yay! Everything is fine, cool and froody and peachy keen. We have ‘come to terms’ with our horrible loss and move on with our lives.
Or not. The idea of ‘moving on’ is something I find more beneficial to other people then the bereft. It means that they don’t have to deal with all the messy bits, that they can go back to how it was safe in the knowledge that there is closure. The book is now closed, the chapter complete, the final boss defeated and we can go to the next chapter, stage and credits sequence. Grief can be draining for other people too you know? The well of compassion is running dry and it’s all got a bit boring.
There isn’t closure. There is no neat resolution to any of this. No magic reset button or spell or technology to rectify the wrong.
To a certain extent that isn’t a bad thing. It would be odd to just suddenly be ok with it and not be changed at all. For me acceptance is finding a way to live with the loss and it being part of my day to day to life without being crippling.
There is a quote from The Sandman:
It’s not that the blows stop coming, they just become less frequent. There will be times when those blows will make me stagger, some will floor me and other times it’s more a playful jab to remind me that they were here. I can’t always know when they will come or how I will react when they do but the fact that they do keep coming is reassuring. I haven’t lost the capacity to feel and they are with me, in thought and memory.