In last month’s blog we discussed the simple truth that grief is so much more than 5 stages. Oh, how simple it would be if we could simply go through 5 different stages of emotions and then be completely over our pain and heartache. It might be easier to survive if it you only had to feel 5 different emotions and then you could go back to the regulated emotional state that you were in prior to the death. However, as discussed in last month’s blog -that simply is not the way it happens. But unfortunately, due to faulty interpretations of Kὓebler-Ross’s research that has been the presumption of many of over the years.
This month I want to share a little more about the grief process and dispel some common myths. First, all grief is not the same. Grief is an expression of love that the person has for the person whose gone. Love doesn’t stop because that person is no longer there. But the one left behind still has the love in their hearts yet they are unable to communicate, to express it to their loved one and thus grief ensues. We tell everyone that they are uniquely created by God. Yet we expect that all relationships are the same – they are not.
Secondly, not everyone experiences the five stages that Kὓebler-Ross reported on. Remember her team only observed the ones that were dying – she did not observe the surviving family members. For instance, I never experienced denial when it came to my son’s death. I was there that morning of the wreck. I had arrived on the scene about 10 minutes after the wreck took place. There was no denying what my eyes had seen. In fact, it would take me years of sleepless nights to get those images out of my head. There was also no stage of “bargaining” with God for me either. God had already made His decision – Jamie was killed on impact. I was abruptly reminded of the truth of Psalm 139:16 “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” God already knew that was the day Jamie was going to leave us. Which means He also knew that I would have to walk through that horrific day. He was in control, not me and He had already spoken – there was no bargaining.
Now I want to talk about some of the feelings that I did experience. These are feelings that I have found in to be common in talking with others who have suffered through the loss of a child. Yet never mentioned in the research on the original “5 stages of grief” by Kὓebler-Ross.
Anxiety are panic attacks are common in grief. Our sense of control is gone. We feel helpless. We wonder what will happen next. I struggled a lot with anxiety so much so, that I struggled to leave my home. Only my husband knew how much I struggled with agoraphobia after Jamie’s death. Prior to his death I was an extrovert. But after his death, I was anxious about leaving my home, anxious about being out in public, anxious that something might happen that would cause me to cry and break down in public. While I did go out, it was at times quite debilitating and it took a lot of work on my part (and God’s) to help me through it.
I also struggled a lot with the fear of a future loss. Thanatophobia is commonly referred to as the fear of death. I was extremely scared that I would lose my husband or my other son. I wanted them with me all the time. I know I annoyed them at times, because if they did not check in when they were supposed to, I would be an emotional mess. I was constantly on edge that at any moment something bad would happen and take them away from me.
Overwhelming sadness was another emotion for me. Loss is heavy. The death of a child is crushing. As some of the shock dissipates, a deep sadness begins to slowly ooze out of our shattered spirits. But it isn’t just sadness. For many, PTSD is a real by-product of the death of a child. I suffered from PTSD after Jamie’s death. PTSD can cause distressing dreams, flashbacks to events, intense psychological distress, difficulty concentrating and memory problems, and physiological reactivity when exposed to cues of death. One thing that could trigger me into a complete and utter melt down was the sound of a police/fire/rescue siren while driving on the road.
H. Norman Wright states “it usually takes 5-10 years to stabilize your life after the death of a child.” Notice he didn’t say “get over it” or “return to normal” – he said to “stabilize your life” and from my own personal experience I would have to say that I agree with him. Even though I was out around people and taking small steps to live again, it was year 9 that I truly felt “comfortable” in my own skin again. In closing, I want to reiterate that grief is not neatly processed and put away in a box within a year. In fact, grief never ends but how we process it can and should change from day to day. It’s been twelve years since Jamie left us and I still grieve for him. But my grief looks a lot different now than it did then. Grief affects our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. If you’re walking through the valley of grief – be kind to yourself – grief is so much harder than people realize!
My Hope Endures,
Laura Holmes, MA, CATP
Director, Ephraim Ministries