A couple of weeks after Arthur died I wrote in my journal, “I don’t remember one of the stages of grief being hell. That’s where I am right now.” A few weeks later I wrote, “I’m in the wanting-to-break-something stage of grief now.”
Two months in I wrote, My stages of grief so far:
- Shock. Total numbness.
- NO! This made me feel like a 2-year-old, shouting ‘NO!’ at the top of my lungs while crying. Lasting at least six weeks, this stage isn’t through yet. This is also the time of magical thinking, like a young child.
- Goddamn It. Started about week 7. Not anger at Arthur, just general displeasure at how life looks.
After four months I wrote, “What stage am I in now? What comes up is dullness. A dull plodding through the days, because the weight of the reality has sunk in. Arthur is not coming back, I’m going to have to face living the rest of my life without him. It’s an acceptance of sorts, but a very unhappy one. There’s been a return of the bone-weary tiredness.”
For years I had heard about the ‘five stages of grief’: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But when I actually got to the point of experiencing grief these didn’t fit my experience at all. When someone has already died how does bargaining enter the picture?
With a little research I learned that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross delineated these famous stages for people who were dying, not for those who were grieving.
I’ve read a number of books about grief and hadn’t found any that describe the stages of grief in a way that matched my experience until I found Giving Sorrow Words, by Candy Lightner and Nancy Hathaway. Ms. Lightner founded MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Ms. Lightner learned that psychologists have identified various patterns of grieving, and one of these, by psychoanalyst Dr. John Bowlby (1907-1990), resonated with me.
Dr. Bowlby broke grief down into four stages: shock and numbness, yearning and searching, disorganization and despair, and reorganization.