We have all heard about the stages of grief, it is used as an example for others to understand what stages most people have to face when dealing with the loss of a loved one or other situations that include the grief process. I want to discuss this topic from a different angle. After losing my Dad on August 8th of this year I had lots of people send condolences, write a letter, ask questions, judge, post ignorant things on social media, ask what I needed and just let me know they were available. I want to help others that have a friend or relative going through grief. I want to share my experiences in order to shed some light on things that were helpful and hurtful in dealing with my own grief.
Let’s quickly look at the main stages of grief that people deal with. This will help others to see from the hurting person’s perspective possibly and therefor it will aid in making good decisions on how to approach the subject of grief.
I was in shock when I heard that my Dad died. I couldn’t believe that he was gone. I remember hearing the news but my brain could not accept it as truth. I was in such a state of shock I can’t remember if I said “No” or “What?” People can sometimes go through 5 minutes of shock or 5 years of it. I am just sharing my personal experiences with each of these stages because I know it is different for everyone.
Denial almost immediately creeped into my brain. My Dad can’t be dead. I talked to him just a little bit ago and my husband and I visited him on his birthday just 2 weeks earlier. I thought maybe someone had gotten the information mixed up, maybe there is another Steve Dorn in the world, maybe someone had my Dad’s wallet and ID. I wan’t anything else to be true, just not that my Dad was gone.
I thank God every day that I don’t have guilt in any form with my Dad’s death. I am glad that he and I knew we loved each other and our last words to one another were, “I love you.” I have to admit that I dealt with a big heap of anger about 3 weeks after my Dad’s death. There was no rhyme or reason to my anger, I was just mad at everything that people said, the news, I had little patience for my dogs (anyone that knows me understands that my dogs are my babies and I love them big time) so it was highly unlike me to get irritated with them, I hated cleaning the house, things that were usually done without thought became exhausting and irritating. I know that it is common for people to get angry with the person that died, family members, God or other things. I just got irritated by EVERYTHING!
Yikes! Bargaining is a slippery slope. I didn’t realize that bargaining was such a large piece of the grief process. I still struggle with this one off and on but I never let it stick around too long. Bargaining is the process where you think things like, “What could I have done differently?” “Would they still be here if I ______?” “I vow to _____” “I should have _______.” Don’t go there, no should, would, could, if only’s or I wish. Once you allow those thoughts to wander it gets ugly fast. People sometimes think that they had control to change a situation and that if they did then things would have turned out different. It is nobodies job to try to change the past. Instead of looking at the things I “could have” done I look at what things have gone right in my life. I have an incredible and loving husband. My brother’s and their families are doing good in life and they are healthy. My mom and her husband were able to find each other a few years back and start a new journey together. There are things to think of outside of bargaining. What could have been or what is? The latter is a much healthier perspective.
Despair and depression are things that I have already battled with. Refer to my other blog post titled “depression” to learn about my journey. I believe that I did not deal with despair or depression during the loss of my Dad because I had already been down that road before and gotten through it as a victor. Don’t misunderstand me, I still am sad, mournful and at times filled with pain but I refuse to become depressed. My Dad never wanted me to be sad a day in my life and I choose to live in such a way that he will forever be proud of me.
Blah! Acceptance, lets think about this one. I’m not fully done with acceptance. I know that my Dad is gone from this earth forever, but I still get silly little urges. I pick up my phone about once a week with the intention of calling my Dad to see what’s new and then reality hits me like a knife in the heart. I have kept three of his shirts because they remind me of him and I can picture him when I see them. Do I accept that my Dad is gone? Yes. Am I alright with that? Not a bit!
Now that we have covered a bit on the stages of grief I want to jump straight into the personal experiences that I dealt with during my loss and more specifically what helped bring peace and the things that invoked other emotions completely.
The most helpful things:
- Offer to bring food.
It isn’t easy to eat when you are hurting but it is wonderful to have someone bring food so that you have one less thing to deal with or think about. (Becky you were wonderful.)
- Just hearing “I’m here for you”.
When you don’t know what to say to someone grieving make sure you mean what you say. If you are not going to be present for them just say “You have my love and prayers”. That is just as good but it doesn’t set anyone up for misunderstanding. (My families and Spring)
- If you need anything let me know.
This is comforting. I have to admit I couldn’t think of a single need while I was hurting but it felt reassuring to have people offer to help out. (Joelle and Elise you have been great since the day you were born.)
- Do not ask questions about the death.
If you are close enough to the family then you will know in time. It comes across as hurtful to try to get to the details when people are mourning.
- Don’t make it about you.
When I lost my Dad there were people coming out of the woodwork saying how much turmoil they were in. Please be aware that any friendship does not compare to family relation.
- No judging allowed.
People will grieve in so many different ways. Let them mourn anyway they need to as long as they are not endangering themselves or others. The way you or I mourn will not be the same and we have to accept those differences.
- Don’t say “I know how you feel.”
Your pain will not be the same as someone else’s. Even if the circumstances are the exact same the details will be different. No death or loss is the same. Losing a dog when you were 14 is not the same as your Dad dying. (Yes, I did have people say very interesting things to comfort me.)
Even with this Do and Don’t list please be patient, kind and understanding. If you are hurting, try to allow silly comments go. If you are trying to assist a friend during loss just know they will share when they want to and the only thing you need to do is be present and willing to be a shoulder to lean on.
Lastly I want to touch on three more things that are important to know during grief, Victim vs. Victor, Pity and Forgiveness.
Victim vs. Victor:
I hope this speaks to someone dealing with grief or someone that has a friend dealing with grief. Nobody wants to be seen as a victim. Things happen in life, the hardest days of my life have made me stronger, better and more appreciative of what I have. In the past I felt like a lost puppy in the rain when someone spoke to me as though my life was so hard and they were amazed that I was ok given my circumstances. It took years to know how to deal with situations like that. I am a victor I am never a victim. When people treat me like a victim of my circumstances I interrupt them. I let them know that I do not believe that anything in my life has been too difficult, I am still here. I am alive, happy and healthy. I have overcome many obstacles and I know that I was born to deal with difficulties head on. You and I have gone through things that will seem difficult to others but the important part is that we have gotten through them not as a victim but as a victor.
Like bargaining, pity is a slippery slope. It feels good to have others care about you and to look after you. You have to be aware of the line between care and pity. When I hear someone say the words, “You poor thing.” I want to explode. Those words are not encouraging. They allow people to stay the same, not to grow and to feel bad for themselves. In all of my hurdles I can promise that not one of my friends or family has ever heard me allow self pity into my situation. I do not feel bad for myself and I will not allow myself to pity others. If this sounds heartless to you let me explain. Pity is so different from empathy or compassion. Pity says it’s ok to feel sorry for yourself and even to assume that you are a victim of your circumstances. Compassion and empathy are feelings of understanding or wanting to understand and yet knowing that the grieving person will overcome the obstacles in front of them. (Pity = Victim Compassion and Empathy = Victor)
You may be wondering what forgiveness has to do with grief. Let me say it plays a huge part. Forgive people that say things that are hurtful, forgive the person that died and any hurt feelings attached to their absence and forgiving yourself if you are feeling guilty over a loved ones death.
Forgiving others and yourself is freeing. Like the quotes above, forgiveness is beautiful and healing. Let go of the things that you cannot change. Let go of the people that have hurt you in any way. Let go of any thoughts that come into your head saying that you could have changed any outcomes in the future. You are not so powerful that you can stop every loved ones death. That would be wonderful! You are powerful by being a whole person, being happy and healthy.
I am a conqueror! I am a victor. I am never a victim, I do not allow pity into my realm. I live a life that allows hope, plans and actions for a good future. As William Ernest Henley once wrote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
Your turn fill in the blank, I AM ____________!