For years I 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 sounded wrong. When someone has already died how does bargaining enter the picture?
With a little research I learned that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross delineated these famous stages for people who were dying, not for those who were grieving.
Thankfully for me not long after Arthur died I found an article called “Getting Grief Right.” The author is a psychotherapist who has had experience with grief in his own life; his son died. Dr. Patrick O’Malley has realized that the “stages of grief” belief has become a destructive prescription for moving on and it often doesn’t allow people to grieve in the way that is right for them.
Dr. O’Malley wrote about a woman who had come to see him. Her infant daughter had died six months before. She was convinced that she should have been able to work those five stages like they were steps in a self-help program. She was confused why she was still sad. She thought there must be something wrong with her.
I cried aloud with relief when I read the words he spoke to her: “The depth of your sadness is simply a measure of the love you had for your daughter.”
Dr. O’Malley wrote that
When I was trained, in the late 1970s, the stages of grief were the standard by which a grieving person’s progress was assessed. That model is still deeply and rigidly embedded in our cultural consciousness and psychological language. It inspires much self-diagnosis and self-criticism among the aggrieved. This is compounded by the often subtle and well-meaning judgment of the surrounding community. A person is to grieve for only so long and with so much intensity.
Instead, Dr. O’Malley says, the grieving person needs to “sink into the sadness.” Experience it. Allow it to be.
I have found myself struggling with the expectation that I should have gotten to acceptance. There has been some self-criticism that I haven’t gotten there yet. A wise friend told me, “right now accept that you’re in a state of rejection.”
Another of Dr. O’Malley’s sentences caused me to cry with relief:
…When I suggested a support group, Mary rejected the idea. But I insisted. She later described the relief she felt in the presence of other bereaved parents, in a place where no acting was required. It was a place where people understood that they didn’t really want to achieve closure after all. To do so would be to lose a piece of a sacred bond.
Those last bolded sentences are exactly how I feel. I want part of me to always be raw and open to the depth of feeling I am experiencing right now; to always be able to experience the depth of our love that is manifested in the depth of my grief. I don’t want to “get over it.” To do that would be to lose Arthur.
Getting grief right is being authentic, being honest about how I feel. Thank you Dr. O’Malley for helping me give myself the permission to grieve however is right for me.