Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance, yes, these are the stages of grief. “Where are you Shelley Collins in your stages of grief?”
I remember clearly being asked that question by a well meaning therapist within three months of my first husband’s death. Having no idea what was even on the grief cycle anymore, even as I had been a therapist myself, I guessed depression. I was told that was impossible. Well, how was anything possible? What was real anymore? In my dreams I still was a preacher’s wife in a South Georgia town, trying to eat healthy with all of the fried food being available and sweets and smiles, that the clinical setting in which I found myself seemed raw and bright, overly bright like that flickering fluorescent strip that shines brightly only seconds at a time, forcing one’s awareness like the blinks of one’s eyes only seconds at a time was I even in this room, with this person. I was sane. I was grounded. I was grounded as anyone can be who loses their home, their life built by blood sweat and tears with their spouse, only to have it disappear, along with him. Yes, I did as planned. I moved home to raise our daughter. That was always the plan, when the unthinkable happened. So, I was in a dream from which I would wake, any minute. I still woke in the night panicked. I needed to call home, for Lattie would be worried. I had stayed at my mom’s house much too long. Of course I had talked to him about needing some time to get her support with our baby. But, I missed him, and he must be mad. I needed to call, and then sitting straight up, I remembered he was in heaven. Oddly, I resolved to lay my head back down. I rested and thought of the blessings of my parents house, the comfort of seeing our sleeping child, and would fall asleep looking at his pictures I lined up along the mantel.
So, where was I in the grieving process, I was breathing. Breathing was enough at that time.
It’s been 17 years now, and I’m now happily remarried and our daughter is 17. I have pictures of family trips and vacations I look at nightly as I sleep and I smile. I have been super happy. Yet, even with the great photos and memories, hugs and laughter, I am having fears again, crippling fears beginning to creep up.
So, I am sharing in hope that the clarity that is starting to reveal itself will help me and perhaps others to be brave in the face of grief and loss, which is part of every day, every breath, every second, this reality is present. Most of the time we can place it on a shelf for safekeeping, our personal thoughts and coping methods. Whether we are a big believer in, “everything happening for a reason,” or the statement, “God will only give you what you can handle,” or even, “you guys must not have had a good marriage. It sounds difficult.” Regardless of the philosophy we choose to deal with death, it’s something I personally find is ever developing within myself.
Some folks box up there pain and store it. Others, shove it deep into corners. Some give it a reason, label the box, and place it in clear view. I feel like whatever works to keep you from losing yourself in the midst of grief and loss, especially shocking grief and loss, of it’s not damaging to anyone, then it’s your way and you are still here. Mine has been to battle with my faith, to develop an even closer relationship with my God.
Even so, I am there again, as lately grief is raising its ugly head. My daughter is like I said 17. She will be leaving home, but most of all I feel her growing into an individual, a strong you woman. She is not grown, but I feel her growing into this separate place which is important for her to do, and yet triggers old fears, reminds me of that feeling, that this life my Kyle and I have built with her is about to change. Instead of being afraid of being able to raise her, I’m now afraid of the letting go.
So, I found myself wondering, what does this mean? I worked that grief process and mucked it out with God at my side. I cried every tear drop there was to cry, and now I’m crying again. I’m scared again. I’m stirred up. What does it all mean?
What does it mean if I can feel this way again? What does that mean about the grief. Did I not do it properly? Should I have worked harder? I still struggle with these harsh deep feelings, and they are not for my late husband. It’s knowing that it happened at all. It can happen to Kyle, to Hannah, to my friends, to my parents, their parents, and my mind spins. I experience vertigo and I feel lost in that feeling. God always pushes me through it, but why again?
I know why tonight. The final stage of grief should be called integration rather than acceptance. That moment when something bigger than our minds, hearts, and bodies can absorb actually becomes real to us without shattering our day, our moment, when that knowledge can be sadly stated as yes, it happened, details only upon request, and bam, integration occurs. But, it’s when we can allow it to fit in our schemas for what life is about, what we believe spiritually about our lives and our God, and it falls together in a way that is one. That is integration. It’s when I can talk to my spouse today about life before him, and share a bit about our life, and it all connects. It’s not the center, it’s not the chapter in which I live, but it’s in the same book. That’s for me acceptance, or integration. It’s my new normal.
Now, I’m facing another chapter, another new normal. I can not imagine my daughter living anywhere other than home.
The teen age years are tough. They are tough for kids and for us as parents. But, they do grow up. They do often remember what we gave as parents, how we lived, and if they find it fits them, they often emulate us. That’s kind of amazing. Maybe that knowledge that we have actually had an impact, and that we are currently doing the job and well will allow me to endure this transitional time. Maybe, I can trust in God, no matter what the world throws at her, tells her is true, that he is still Sovereign over all things, including us. Maybe, just knowing that, will help me to be in this stage with her, near to her, but not overbearing, and strong.