Friday, January 10, 2014

How to Grieve

Are you seeking solace? Pursuing peace? Have you recently been shaken to the core by the news that someone you love is no longer here? Do you wonder if there is a best way to grieve? A best way to move past the heartache?  I'm kind of new at this, just almost three weeks into this thing, and if there's one thing I'm learning, it's that there is no one way to do this.

Somewhere during my college education, I took a psychology course, and was presented with the information that is currently available from any number of sources via a Google search about Kübler-Ross (Stages of Grief). Not having to use the information on any regular basis, thank goodness, I had incorrectly thought that we moved from Stage One (Denial) to Stage Two (Anger), and then on to Stages Three and Four (Bargaining and Depression), and finally on to the Fifth Stage (Acceptance.)  

In my head, I suppose, I had hoped that once the shock wore off, and I stopped repeating the mantra of denial that afternoon of "Not my dad...not MY dad...NOT my DAD..." that I could wash my hands of denial, and move right on the second stage of anger. If only it were that simple. It is not. Feel free to revisit denial, and any of the other stages, as often as needed, until you get each one out of your system. 

Upon reading the article in the link, I realize why I thought it was a linear process. Many authors use "first, next, then, and finally" phrasing to describe the process. The link above is no exception. The fine print is there, and when one is grasping for understanding, perhaps one reads more carefully. I finally get it. The steps can occur in any order, and may be revisited at any time. I am learning that once I get one step out of the way, it is not true that I will not be troubled by it any more. With study comes understanding. Hands-on application makes things painfully clear. Now that I am going in and out, and back and forth, and throughout the five stages, I absolutely understand that it is not an orderly process. I am all over the place as I come to terms with Daddy's death.

During the days that led up to the funeral, I was overcome with a sense of loss. The first couple of days found me dissolving into pools of tears at the most random of moments. There was so much turmoil in my personal life that coincided with my dad's death, and my thoughts were so fractured, that I never felt like I could focus on any one thing to be sad about, but then the reality of dad's being gone, and my never being able to see him again as long as I live would hit, and I would absolutely focus on the ache in my heart that was Daddy.

The anger I felt was projected onto other situations in my life. I suppose it was caught up in all of the other emotions I was feeling because there were moments of hot, angry tears that fell during the darkest of days. I've never been very comfortable with anger, and I'm sure I will have to revisit that stage because I am still learning how to face it, and release it.

Once I was surrounded by friends and family in Virginia who were there for our support, I was able to set the grief and anger aside, if only temporarily, and begin the processes of bargaining and depression. Yes, both of them, in tandem, and in no particular order.  

In this case, I do not have any regrets about the past regarding my dad. He and I spoke on the phone regularly. We spoke the Sunday morning of the day he died. I know he knows I love him, and I know that he loves me.  

My regrets involve the future. No more Sunday morning phone calls. No more Myrtle Beach trips with my dad. No more trips back home to sit on his couch while he sits in his big chair, listening to his funny stories, and his philosophy of life. No more supportive advice from the man who loved me before any other did. No more sweet letters, and surprise packages from Virginia from the man I loved first.  

My bargaining began later Sunday evening as my thoughts turned to Christmas, only three days away. I wasn't thinking things like, "if only he had..." or "if only I had..." One of the last things Daddy said before we hung up the phone Sunday morning was, "I'll talk to you on Christmas." And that is where I hung all of my hope. Perhaps he could. Perhaps he would. I only had one Wish for Christmas, and I fervently wished that my dad would come through for me one last time. I begged, I whispered, I pleaded...yes, I bargained with Dad, and I bargained with God.

Depression is a feeling that visited off and on as I made travel arrangements and endured the tedious itinerary of airports and layovers and car rides that finally saw me home. It felt as though I somehow had a reprieve when I made it back to Virginia. There my soul was soothed by the stories and remembrances of our loved ones.  

We kept Dad alive by retelling his favorite jokes, and listening to friends' and family members' memories. The constant phone calls, cards, and visitors reminded us we were not alone. I was lulled into thinking I had already made it to the final grieving stage of acceptance, but that one eludes me still, and probably will, for quite some time.  

What does grieving look like? Every day has been different, and yet, for me, there has been a sameness, a grey-ness, that is nearly predictable. It's comforting, really, to not be thrust into the extreme highs and lows for a time. 

Today, the necessary tools for grieving include comfy clothes, fleece blankets, a Boston Terrier, and hot soup. Resting under said blankets on the expansive king-sized bed for hours with the Boston, turning over only when I wanted to watch the steady snowfall outside the window. Today few words have been spoken. Words seem so loud, and so unnecessary right now. They require thought and energy I cannot devote to conversation.

Showering is always optional, and today I am taking advantage of that. Hats are appropriate head coverings when washing and styling hair seem too overwhelming to endure. There is only one time I plan to leave the house in this treacherous weather, and I intend to wear my crocheted hat to protect my hair, and prevent anyone from seeing its true state.

There are still Christmas presents, wrapped just as they were on Christmas Eve, waiting for interest in knowing what lies beneath the ribbons and bows. There they will sit in the guest room until the time is right, which today feels like never. 

After the precipitation stopped falling late in the afternoon, I removed all of my clothing, and stepped outside onto our covered patio. Don't worry; one of the perks of this particular lot is its privacy. The cold air rushing over my skin was a welcome sensation after feeling nothing for most of the day. I climbed into the hot tub, sitting in the middle of the water, so I could submerge myself up to my chin. The heated water embraced me in its depths, and only my face sensed the cold of the air. I positioned myself so the heated stream of water pushed against my back. I sat in silence, not even wanting the sound of the water jets interrupting my reverie.

The world isn't in mourning with me, which seems so inconsiderate. Magpies still fly from limb to limb, and hop around our yard looking for morsels. Morsels of what, I can't imagine. The snow is inches deep. I watched the starlings murmurating to and fro, traveling in their synchronized swarm, twisting and turning above the frosted cattails. Cars travel down the street above our house, crunching through the new layer of snow. 

The glaring white of the snow blends into the stark white of the vinyl fencing, providing a slight contrast for the snow-laden brush and bare-limbed trees in the animal sanctuary adjacent to our yard. The winter trees are silhouetted by yet another shade of white in the distance; combination of the smog, and the fog, and the low-hanging clouds. Not quite the colors of mourning, but there is something so depressing about the absence of color, I took some comfort in that.

It seems the Norfolk Island Pine commiserated with me today, if no one else could; its branches hanging heavy with the weight of winter upon its needles.  It looks so forlorn for all of its cheerful green, the Weeping Willow of winter.

Reading the book Healing after Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman brought me some comfort today. A dear friend I've never met mailed it to me. I received it, and also a copy of Karen Katafiasz's little book called Grief Therapy in the mail on the same day.  

Allowing my thoughts to venture outside of myself sometimes feels good. Reading someone else's words, instead of dwelling on my own, allows me to explore my feelings vicariously. Sometimes I welcome the chance to read, and sometimes I don't.

Conversation startles me; shouldn't we be whispering, if speaking at all? Food doesn't taste that great, but I eat anyway, for something to do.

On this late afternoon, I seek comfort and sensory pleasures. I have no desire whatsoever to spend time in the kitchen today. Sometimes I do, but not today. I want someone else to care for me, and see to the details. I look forward to my hour with Francisco, my favorite massage therapist. Human touch will be most welcome.

As I lay on his warmed table, draped in the softest sheet, and a deep purple, fleece blanket, it occurs to me to pick up some comfort food on the way home. Mimi's Café has the most wonderful tomato-basil soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, which are encrusted with butter and parmesan cheese sprinkles. That would be the exact meal I desire for this chilly, winter's night. Francisco saw to my physical aches and pains; it would fall to me to comfort my spiritual and emotional ones.

As I dined on food I did not have to prepare, I felt gratitude, if only briefly. Was it acceptance, finally? I have had time now to revisit all of the stages, but probably not enough time. I will continue to come to terms with the gaping hole in my heart. Occasionally, acceptance settles over my shoulders like a comforting blanket, and for that, I am grateful.

It is going to take some time. If you are grieving, know that you are not alone. No one knows your pain the way you do, though. I get that, too. People say they know, and it's almost offensive because they don't. They can't. They don't know my dad the way I do. They don't know our connection, our hopes and dreams, our history.

Take your time. Find your way to honor your loved one. Take care of yourself. Look for the small moments that bring even the smallest of joys each day; they are there for the seeking. Don't worry about grieving the right way, or the right amount of time. For each of us it's different, and that's okay. Mourning is a very personal journey; take heart in knowing there is no wrong way to do it, and no specified amount of time is required of you. You are in control; maybe not of anything else, but your grieving is yours to own. May you find the peace you seek, and feel the love you deserve.


  1. Blessings and comfort, Denise.

    1. Oh, Janna...thank you. Wish it weren't such a time-consuming process...

  2. Denise, once again your blog has touched my heart. In words I didn't know how to express, you have captured the feelings I had at the loss of first my Mom, and more recently my Dad. It is hard to express how sad I am that in a short 3 year period, I have become an orphan. And I feel that way. At least a thousand times I have thought, "Mom would have understood this, or Pops would have helped me understand that." I feel lost without them, their advice and understanding as no one in my life right now, is old enough to understand menopause or the emotions I feel, the aging of my body or my mind, and it's thought process at this time in my life. But my parents could have, only they are both gone...not help:( It is one of the hardest things I've ever gone through. I miss them everyday, as I know you will your Dad. I guess part of acceptance is accepting that you'll just have to miss them until you see them again. I've accepted that... I hope you can feel peace and comfort from knowing that I care too!

    1. Oh, Loney, thank you for your sweet words. The support from others is what is helping me through. I am so glad to have people like you in my corner who've been there; who understand.

  3. I read this entry with particular interest ... as I am still on the "grief journey" having lost both my mother and my brother within 18 months of one another. This quote comes to mind:

    "When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose him all at once, you lose him in pieces over a long time."
    ~ John Irving

    Denise, you put feelings into words ever so eloquently. Even the inexplicable feelings of grief. I look forward to following your journey. Know that you are not alone. Sooner or later everyone becomes part of this family of loss, where we truly learn the art of compassion. My heart is with you. I know how it feels.

  4. The John Irving quote is profound, and a little scary since I'm just getting started. Carol, thank you for always knowing just what to say. You are such a wonderful friend.

  5. As always, beautiful thoughts...I have also found that not only is their no one way of grieving that it also has to do with ones relationship with the loved one who has gone on. With my grandma I desperately wished I had thought less of myself and school and had walked home past her house every day instead of hurrying home (I think I was around 14)...with my dearest Uncle, I knew he was not in the best of health but had no idea how close he was to death and figured I would wait to see him again after all the hustle and bustle of Christmas was over and everyone else had settled back in to real life (I miss his laugh and soft hands)..and my sweet cousin that I hadn't been able to find his contact information because his mother drove me crazy and I would not give her the satisfaction of trying to find out his whereabouts through her but my own devices--I never did and he killed himself and I regret every day the years of not being able to just say "Hello, I love you." The grief is always there but soon the fear that you will forget them is replaced with the knowledge that you loved them and they are always there with you.

    1. Such a heartfelt's an ongoing process, isn't it? (((HUGS)))


Thank you so much for stopping by Randomocity. Like most writers, I enjoy interacting with the wonderful people who read what I have to say, so please, if you would like to leave a "blogment," I would love to hear from you!