Life is filled with cycles. There is the cycle of the seasons throughout the year, spring, summer, autumn, winter. The cycle of months. There is the cycle of the days in the week. Within each day is the cycle of hours: dawn, day, evening, night. Cycles rule all of us whether we know it or not. When do we wake? When do we eat? When do we tire and go to sleep? Cycles for everyone and every living thing. Plants know when to bloom, when to bear fruit, when to lie dormant. Animals know when to breed, when to migrate, when to hibernate. All ruled by cycles. All predictable and consistent. Day always follows night, spring always follows winter.
Grief has its own cycles, but they are wildly inconsistent and unpredictable. The classic “five stages of grief” (originally developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross through her work with terminally ill patients): denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, don’t line up like spring, summer, fall, and winter. They aren’t the phases of the moon, one flowing into the other. It isn’t a checklist, it’s not instructions like putting together a bookshelf from Ikea. Everyone has their own rhythm and progression. They repeat in an endless loop always changing the order: denial, anger, depression, anger, denial, depression, acceptance, denial, anger, bargaining, anger, acceptance, denial, bargaining, depression, anger, denial, acceptance, denial, acceptance, anger, and so on. I can go through all five stages in a single day, in a single hour. But the one constant throughout all the stages is the sorrow and sadness. The feeling of ineffable loss. The terrible waste of it all.
Much has been written on and about this classic model, there are others too: J. William Worden’s “Tasks of Mourning”, Therese Rando’s “Six R’s”, the “Dual Process” developed by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Strut. In all of them, dealing with grief is an ongoing process. An open-ended process. The loss of a child, or any great loss, isn’t something you just ‘get over’ in time. It takes work. One is expected to confront their emotions, to accept the reality of the loss, to work through the pain, to relinquish attachments, to relocate emotions, to shift our focus, to readjust, to accept a new reality, to move on. There is no timetable, no schedule, no estimated time of arrival. You just keep on travelling, with no expectation of arrival. In fact, there is no arriving, just the journey now.
When I am in the anger cycle, part of the anger is that I now have a lifelong task that I didn’t ask for. I no longer have the luxury of just living, working, playing, relaxing. No, I have to ‘work on the process’, will be ‘processing’ forever. I had so much else to do, I didn’t need another lifetime project. Thanks, Universe, for the gift that just keeps on giving. Acceptance? Not likely. I will never accept it willingly. Get over it? No way.
Another week ends, another week begins. I have read that the first six months are the most difficult. I have also read that the second year is worse than the first. I don’t have to read any books to become an expert on grief. I already am. It doesn’t really matter. It can’t be worse than that first awful moment, and yet it can. It is. As the ripples spread out in the pool, we don’t know what effect they will have in a week, a month, a year. We will only know when the ripples wash over us. For now, we just go through the cycles wondering which one is coming next.