This blog is not FDA approved
I am not a grief counselor. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a nice, tidy formula to help us identify the stages of grief, the acronym SARAH, which stands for shock, anger, rejection, acceptance, help. Use it wisely. A formula works for identifying and charting emotional responses to loss, but it is no substitute for allowing ourselves to fully experience emotions as they occur. It takes time to move through the stages of grief. How much time, depends on our experience. I have experience with grief and I can say for certain, it doesn’t follow a formula. Also, trying to chart our progress through the stages of grief is like stepping onto the scale with a beer in one hand and chocolate cake in the other, hoping to see that we’ve dropped 10 pounds. Focusing on a result without awareness of what we are holding on to is, quite frankly, a waste of good grief. Not to make light of the pain of loss, but if we don’t come through the grieving process with valuable insight, what good is it?
When you have absorbed the shock of witnessing insane behavior that you cannot comprehend, watching your house burn to the ground or being told that someone you love has committed suicide, when time passes and anger subsides, when you manage to function, thrive even, despite traumatic events, when you think you have reached a stage of acceptance, look out for an undercurrent of emotion you cannot identify that makes you angry all over again. It may seem like a setback, but it’s important not to discount the value of anger. Yes, anger. For all the well intended warnings about anger being one letter away from danger, getting good and pissed off when you feel yourself being dragged into cavernous depths may propel you upward toward a lifeboat. It’s true. Appropriately directed, anger can burn so hot it throws a bright light on the truth that you do not control a situation; you can only control your response to it. In that light, you may see your way to accepting whatever forgiveness, understanding, caring kindness is in front of you.
There’s a formula in there somewhere. I’m almost sure of it.
Knowing this became important to me in 2011 when my most cherished friend, Donna, lost her battle with cancer. She had celebrated her 50th birthday, her son had gotten married and she was moving into a new stage of life, but carrying with her into this new stage, some old habits. You see, my friend smoked. She had an unhealthy diet and a stressful job. So, it wasn’t really a shock that the prognosis wasn’t good. That may sound harsh. I assure you, it was devastating news and I gave my full support to my friend during her cancer treatment. At the one year mark, that’s when the shockwave hit. If you or someone you know has endured cancer treatment, then you are aware what chemo and radiation does to a body.
She accepted it. So, I accepted it.
Great, we were at the acceptance stage. Whoa, not so fast. Being supportive of someone who is courageously fighting for their life in the face of certain defeat is one thing, sucking it up when the going gets tough is quite another. I did my best. I traveled to her side whenever I got a call and took turns with her mother staying at her bedside around the clock. One year of treatment turned into two. Biopsies turned into prolonged hospital stays, pneumonia and all kinds of meds. She was living in misery. I was angry. This is where a decent person would say, “I was angry at the situation, not at her,” but I was angry at her. I rejected the idea that we had ever really been friends at all. I rejected the notion that I was doing any good by being there. Of course, that wasn’t the truth. Donna and I had known each other for 23 years that included mutual, affordable, dependable therapy. Our friendship was a bond stronger than family. She needed me to be there to help her when she couldn’t help herself and made me promise not to cry when it was her time to go. So, I held it together, sort of, channeling my anger fueled the writing of a story. A story I wasn’t even aware I’d been holding on to poured out of me in a flood of emotion. Reading pieces of what I’d written to Donna during her lucid moments and hearing her laugh purged my anger and propelled me toward what would turn out to be a lifeboat.
When Donna died, I’d had two years to accept it. I miss her still. Writing has helped me work through my sadness; it’s been my therapy. Just as affordable, not nearly as dependable, but it has brought new friends into my life and created opportunities to share what is in my heart. It’s true; the worst of circumstances can help us discover the best of ourselves, but for that, my friends, we need more than a formula. We need each other.