I took my little grandson Keoni, to the park the other day. Pushing him on the swings reminded me of when we were kids and of course, it reminded me of taking my younger brother Bobby to the park when he was a toddler. I remember pushing him on the swings and teaching him to pump his legs. Then, I thought of the empty swings. Because of cancer and substandard care he won't be here to play with his eventual grandchildren at a park.
I have heard people recently talking about grief and have seen articles about the various stages of grief. Some say five stages while others describe seven. Does defining it in terms of steps and stages really help anyone whose life has been shattered by the death of a loved one? I don't think so. Were these decided by people who had not actually been through it? It just feels as if certain people who are uncomfortable with grief---especially someone else's grief, want to intellectualize it, schedule the various emotion and put labels on them. By the time you are through the alleged stages you are supposed to be done. Then, everything can go back to normal for those who are uncomfortable with your grief. The problem is that there is no normal. You have to create a new normal without the person who is no longer in your physical world. By the way, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is the first person who came up with stages of grief, but she wasn't referring to grievers when she did. No, Elisabeth was working with the dying. Her stages were about dying patients. So, all you social work students who have not given Kubler-Ross her due (you know who you are) and those who decided to bastardize what her life's work was about, shame on you. Elisabeth worked to give dignity to the dying. She took a lot of crap for it. She got a little manic after her strokes but let's not forget how she revolutionized the way the sick and dying patients were treated---worldwide. Sorry, got side tracked. Back to my original rant, anyone who wants to get you back to "normal" to your pre-life crumbling devastation is doing it for him or herself, not you.
Feel the pain. Flow with it. You can't stuff it or try to ignore it. Pain comes from the love you had for the person who is gone. If you didn't love him or her you wouldn't feel it. It's a good thing--it will lead to as much healing as you are capable. You will never forget that you have a hole in your heart. You will eventually get used to the hole and the pain. It doesn't go away. That, my friends, is your new normal. As my friend Martha used to say after a particularly rough grief workshop with half a smile and a shrug, "Grief. It is what it is."
I keep seeing those empty swings. Makes me sad. But, then I remember Keoni's giggles. I am grateful.
Shirley Enebrad is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist with 25 years of experience. For her many years of work with pediatric cancer patients and those grieving the loss of a loved one, she received the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service and the Angel of Hospice Award. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Coping with Grief and Six-Word Lessons for Surviving a Devastating Diagnosis.