Use It. Or Lose It.

It gets worse at three months,” one author wrote of grief.

Five months,” someone at the grief support group said.

“A year, said another.

How dare we do that to each other; our comrades in grieving.

The stab of fear I felt when I read it would be worse at three months, the terror that struck when I heard my pain would increase next year~ no one needs that anticipatory pain. What possible benefit can we obtain from that, mostly inaccurate, information and insight? I say mostly inaccurate because one person’s experience cannot be our own. What we can net from hearing or reading about other people’s grief is a validation for our own feelings, and perhaps, some comfort knowing that it does, indeed, get better.

I am not there yet, wherever there is. I am in the midst of grief, in the early stages of a process I would not be able to quantify in any psychological journal. Having learned the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross model of “5 Stages of Grief,” I have been amazed how little it has actually applied to me. Subsequent research has not necessarily supported it either, and yet it is still found in textbooks and literature distributed to those who are grieving.

A January 2011 Time magazine series on grief, written by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, discusses this concept;

“A group of researchers at Yale decided to test whether the stages do, in fact, reflect the experience of grief. The researchers used newspaper ads and referrals to recruit 233 recently bereaved people, who were assessed for “grief indicators” in an initial interview and then in a follow-up some months later. In the Kübler-Ross model, acceptance, which she defined as recognizing that your loved one is permanently gone, is the final stage. But the resulting study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007, found that most respondents accepted the death of a loved one from the very beginning. On top of that, participants reported feeling more yearning for their loved one than either anger or depression, perhaps the two cornerstone stages in the Kübler-Ross model.”
To read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2042372,00.html#ixzz1yFnHMvyX

What I do know, without a doubt, is we can’t predict how, or even where, our own grief will hit us, much less generalize that our path is like that of another person’s. Our grief is our own, and there is no right or wrong way to approach it. Some of us might want to read everything we can about grief, others might want to avoid the subject entirely. Then there are those of us who work our way through grief by writing and talking about it incessantly.

And yet.

I hit the dreaded and predicted “worse” three-month mark yesterday.

And I wanted to run away. I wanted to run as far away as possible, and keep running.

From the moment I woke, random thoughts were bouncing around in my brain at a mile a minute;

Abby’s 9th birthday is Sunday, her first without her Daddy. She sobbed in bed the other night, missing him. What do I want to do on the 4th of July? Nothing, nothing, nothing, without my love. Jacob will soon be spending more than a month in the hospital after a blood stem cell transplant, and oh, it is going to be so hard on his little body. Will you be watching over him, David, your beloved grandson? Elizabeth will be there with him most of the time. How can she do it? How can I help her? Oh, I want to run from all of this pain and worry and here, she cannot escape from cancer. She has to face it every single day. My heart aches. What can I do for them? Does anyone who hasn’t been down this road understand how difficult any of this is? Do they even want to see my pain or should I hide it? Keep busy, keep busy, keep busy, and then maybe it won’t be so bad. Finish up that column and start on the next. Any essays I can write? About David, of course. What about that tombstone? Why haven’t I ordered it? What do I want on it? What should I make for supper? Who cares about supper?

I looked for a book to read, to quiet my mind. I picked up H. Norman Wright’s “A Better Way to Think: Using Positive Thoughts to Change Your Life.” Surely that book would calm me, help me get my thoughts under control, remove the anxiety that made me want to escape.

Thoughts-optimistic, pessimistic, and everything in between-flit through our minds all day long. And they affect everything about us, from our emotions to our health… We couldn’t possibly count the number of thoughts we have each day. There are far too many. Would you guess a thousand? Five thousand? Depending on how active your mind is, you may produce more than 45,000 thoughts a day.” (page 11)

45,000 thoughts firing in my brain. I was not surprised, but I almost reached for the prescription medication my doctor had prescribed after I’d had a particularly bad night full of anxiety. Medication that I have yet to touch.

“Pray,” I heard then.

What?

Pray.”

By then it was late evening and Abby was dealing with a migraine headache. I tucked her in next to me, put a cold pack on her forehead, and prayed. I prayed that God would relieve this little girl of the excruciating pain in her head and in her heart, that makes her cry. I prayed for Jacob, and his family. I prayed for the women I have met that have also lost their husbands and for the women who still had theirs but weren’t sure how to make them happy. I prayed for my friends, my family, and most of all, I asked God to please lift the anxiety I was experiencing.

And then I fell into a deep and exhausted sleep, smiling at some point in the night because David was laughing an uproarious laugh at something in my dream, the laugh I had always strived to hear from him, the laugh he shared with his siblings when they got together.

I woke up disappointed. My brain was doing it again; the 45,000 thoughts pinging against my skull like static electricity as I walked down the stairway, into the kitchen, and to the coffee pot. I miss him, I miss him, I miss him! My heart hurts. I don’t to parent these children alone! What about little Jacob? His mother? How can they get through a month, or more, in the hospital? Oh, dear God, it hurts.

“Use it.”

I was in the midst of making a cup of coffee. I paused, literally and figuratively, my hand in mid-air, my mind clear for the first time in two days.

Use it?

What did that mean? Use it? Use what?

“Use the pain.”

The directive couldn’t have been clearer. Use the pain, or lose the faith. I felt a sense of peace wash over me. I sat down on the couch with my cup of coffee and pulled out some stationery. I wrote to a woman who had also lost her husband this year. I finished one letter, and began another. I wrote to a sister whose own letter had reached me on a day I needed it. I answered an e-mail I’d avoided answering the day before because the woman had asked how I was and I couldn’t bear to share what I was really feeling. I stepped out of my comfort zone and dared to tell her the truth. I mined the pain, digging deep inside myself, and then I reached out to others. The thoughts in my head slowed down. The anxiety receded. I took a deep breath.

Worse at three months?

Just different.

3 thoughts on “Use It. Or Lose It.

  1. Judith Robl says:

    I’ve always resented the people who thought that they knew all about grieving from having read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. What nonsense! Grief is individual. We have some similarities in that we understand the depth of pain in loss, but I cannot “feel” your pain any more than you can “feel” mine. We can empathize with one another and understand something of the pain each is feeling. But pain is as personal as a fingerprint. Grieving is as individual as your DNA. And you are entitled to your own grief as a way to work through loss. There are no timetables on grief. I am so proud of the way you are coping, I can hardly button my shirt. Hugs and prayers.

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