Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Grief

When I was at the U, I took a class that was semi-related to my major of Gender Studies. I don’t know exactly what the name of the class was, but it had everything to do with death, the psychology of death. It was a fascinating class. What I remember most from the class – apart from the incredibly warm room that it was held in – was the book by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, “On Death and Dying.”

Here we are 20 years later, and I’m sure that everyone has heard of this and the stages of grief are not new, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about of late.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

The stages don’t have to happen in that order, and other feelings can obviously be felt along the journey, but these are the common stages felt by most people facing loss.

At the time, it made perfect sense. I didn’t realize that I would be experiencing those feelings very soon when my mom died. And, I did.

I think that I went through bargaining first. I didn’t do the “oh, god, please take me instead" thing. Now, if it were one of my kids, I might do that. But, I didn’t with my mom.
For being such an active and healthy woman, she really had her share of shitty luck. She managed to get all of the weirdest diseases. Like Saint Vitas Dance. Really? And, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Seriously? Sclerosing cholangitis. Fuh…. So, when my aunt called and said malignant tumor, and the next week the doctor said squamous call carcinoma, I was not surprised.

What I did, however, was plunge myself into the internet (how young it was at the time) and phone calls to the local cancer center and phone calls to my own doctor to find out everything that I could about it. Because that’s what I do. If I can figure it out, or find a way around it, I will do it. So, I sat in the doctor’s office that day with my mom and my aunt and my notebook and asked a thousand questions.

Thinking that I could change it. But if I can learn about it, maybe I can find a way around it. That was my bargaining. Let me learn just enough to possibly change it. Whatever I can do to change it, I will give it a try.

And, then it happened so quickly. Just a few months.

And, I was camping during the last weekend of her life. Because I was in denial. I believed that she was going to be all right. And, then she died. My brother and sister-in-law came to my work to tell me. I went back to my desk and tried to call my sister. I stood in my cubicle and didn’t know what to do. I remember saying (out loud and almost crying) “What the fuck am I supposed to do now?”

Depression came next. Oh, it was a whirlwind of funeral arrangements, writing the obituary, buying a new blouse, picking her casket clothes, picking a casket, arguing about having the casket open or closed, going to my childhood church for the first time in ten years, seeing her friends and hearing their stories. But, yes. It was the depression next.

I finally really sobbed on the way home from the funeral. All the way home - 2.5 hours of crying. And that whole night. And the next day. And, then I had to go back to work, so I managed to collect myself for 8 hours. And, then I drank when I got home. Collected myself for 8 hours, and then I drank some more the next night. This happened pretty much every night for a year. I'm not proud of myself, but it's what happened. I spent hours at night in the basement playing pool by myself and drinking beer. (Is it a wonder that my game never improved? It IS actually a wonder that I didn't gain a lot of weight. I guess the fact that I wasn't eating anything to note probably helped counterbalance the excessive beer.)

During the depression phase, I also experienced the anger phase. I’m loathe to say that sometimes I still do. There was a genuinely wonderful lady, Verna, who used to work with me. She, too, had colon cancer at the same time as my mom, but she survived. As much as I adored her (she has since passed away), I was angry at her. She, of course, never did anything to deserve my anger. She was just fighting a battle for her own life, and she was fortunate enough to win. (Also known as: she had the luxury of insurance whereas my mom did not. Universal healthcare, people…) Yes - sometimes I find myself angry at those around me who do not cherish every irritating thing that their own mother does, but thankfully, it's just a flash and then it's gone.

Finally, I learned to accept it. It was a matter of time, and beer, and tears, and sadness, and withdrawal from those around me. But, I did learn to accept it.

I didn’t think that I would need to deal with this type of grief again until someone else died, but I have. I’ve been absent from this blog because I’m in the middle of the depression phase again. And, it’s just as hard this time even though nobody has died.

This time, I didn’t have months to prepare myself. This time, my daily life, a big sense of myself, my “status,” the respect that I thought that I had, it was all gone in one day. I’ve yet to bargain because I don’t have much left to bargain with. I’ve yet to experience loads of anger because I was led to believe that it was all my own fault. (And, if you know me at all, you know that I immediately blamed myself anyway.) I had myself a little bit of denial while I hid myself away. But, how lucky is my family? I’ve been mired in the depression phase since February.

I don’t know if I will move to acceptance. Mostly because I don’t want to. I can get past the depression. I will. But, the acceptance? It will be a cold day in hell. (Oh, look! A bit of anger! Growth?)

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