The name stages when dealing with grief is misguiding. It leads us to believe that we will move through stages one to five in numerical order and then all will be right once again, we will have emotional balance and can claim our ……..life back going back to how our lives were before the upheaval of death
There are several flaws in this
Firstly in my experience over the years people may experience the stages out of order and may experience each stage a number of times
Secondly we will never go back to our lives as they were before. We have experienced a life changing event. We have new insights and have experienced emotion we did not know previously, we are no longer the same person, we cannot go back. Our lives may return to a pattern which we enjoy with our preferred hobbies and social activities but we will view things from a slightly different angle to how we did before.
My parents were quite old by the time I was born. I spent most of my teens not expecting to have my parents in my life as I aged, By the time I had a family of my own I expected them to not see my children grow up and every moment was precious.
My father died of age related illness when my children were in early adulthood.
Despite my fear of Dad dying throughout my life his death remained hard. He had lived such a long time, I didn’t want him to go yet. Whenever he became ill during the later years I would wonder if this was the beginning of inevitable decline into age related disability and death and would work hard with him to maintain as much independence and ability as possible at every stage. Although I expected him to die, I just didn’t want him to just yet. Just a few more months, just another year or two…..
This made the end very difficult, it was very stressful always knowing the worst was coming but not knowing if this was actually it. We always tried to make every moment count as if this would be the last. However there was always the expectation that as he had made it last time he would do it again, it almost felt as though he was a Peter Pan figure, the old man who would never grow too old. As he had a fierce interest and love in life this perpetuated this image.
Over the years I tried to absorb as much information as I could about him to encourage his interests but also to store up knowledge for the day when he would no longer be available to provide answers to my questions.
Almost by default I began to have shared interests with him. Plants were our shared interest. I was only vaguely interested when my children were little but over the years I developed more interest.
To manage my fluctuating emotions around his deteriorating health I began walking most days. I found accessing the outdoors, particularly green spaces to be very soothing. I enjoyed listening to bird song, trying to recall which song belonged to which bird- I had been taught as a child but had not really listened over the years and forgotten. Then I became interested in the names of trees on my walks, again I couldn’t remember the names from the leaves or tree shape and started to re-learn. Finally I began to notice the wild flowers growing in hedgerows and tried to learn their names.
I’m well aware that by redirecting my attention from bereavement toward a new focus on nature and gardening that I avoided my grief.
As we watch our relative age and become increasingly impotent within our strong and fast paced society we face repeated bereavements. As do they. By deliberately focusing on something Dad and I had enjoyed in the past I was able to feel closer to him. I didn’t feel I was avoiding as I was very much aware of what would ultimately be lost. As the definition of the first stage states, I needed separation when the emotion became overwhelming so I resorted to the past in order to do that and brought it into my present to allow me the strength to take glimpses of the immense sadness of death and then when it became overwhelming I retreated back into the wild- literally.