What if there were more than 5 grief stages to processing loss or death. A recent conversation with the Black men’s therapy group helped me to revisit a long held belief and choose another way to be with loss.
Staged and known
Kubler Ross invites us to imagine the process of managing grief in a range of steps or *awareni that one encounters. The original 5 are useful to frame the experience of being bereaved. Discussing Loss and Bereavement with the introduction to Counselling course for Black Men group, other stages were discussed and arrived at organically. The group not only challenged the 5 previous well known stages but provided reason why further stages may need to be added.
Denial presents shock as a 1st step of the process of encountering the magnitude of loss. A person can attempt to deny that death has occurred. Watching the 2nd season of New Amsterdam a hospital employee is invited often to review their grief process which is firmly rooted in denial. I will choose not to spoil the exploits of the new season of a well told hospital drama. The ending of the 1st season of New Amsterdam was a true shocker. The 2nd season has continued to enthrall me, and was filled with most of the emotions and experiences of the Kubler Ross model of processing grief Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance.
Bartering is another of the initial experiences of processing death. I know I visited this state when I finally admitted to myself that my mother was dieing. This was back in 1993. I bartered my own life away for the sake of hers. To who better than God. I wanted to trade places with her, that if she was left to live that I would attend church and believe like no other Christian ever has before. I vowed to give up my adherent addiction to comic books, to stop playing basketball, even university for the vain hope that my mother could continue to draw breath. Bartering as a stage is pure psychotic belief in one’s own unrealised potential to make the impossible real. It’s a stage close to madness. I ask for what good reason would the universe listen to my small offerings. There is no significant pay off universally. To what end? Really? What changes if one entity is exchanged for another? Sorry. No deal.
Then we arrive at Anger. Now this delicious unrelenting energy giving force of furious energy makes all the other feelings of emotional turmoil seem like a breeze. Paltry. Ineffective. Like Meh! Anger at death is another psychotic experience where we can lose ourselves in rages of senseless fury. Arguing with others (family) friends and loved ones (partners) and ourselves for all that they or you could have done more of to mitigate/stop the deceased from dieing. The point here is you or I don’t have those superhuman powers. Ours is to love. Be consumed by the hurt that our sense of attachment has brought us into intimate contact with. And recognise that there is little left to replace us with the person who has gone.
Acknowledging the hurt can bring us into the uncomfortable 4th stage of the grieving process. Depression. This stage can be unpredictable slow and long. It can also be a dark stage. Ideas both alien and life threatening can enter ones thinking. Behaviours like self-harm, self-isolation, suicide, drug misuse, reckless acts that increase risk to self and others appear to make sense. This stage is a hard one to navigate. Don’t do it alone. Find others to help. Speak to friends. Speak with the one who has gone. Write them a letter, sing them a song. Visit their favourite place and say what you dared not to before. Feel the feelings and recognise that they ebb and flow/wax and wane. Depression isn’t the final destination it’s the wet dark space we get to sometimes pass through. Usually to get to another space. A brighter place. It took roughly 2 years for me to move beyond this stage.
Acceptance is often seen as the final stage to the Kubler-Ross grief process and supports the person who is grieving come upon a sort of deliverance. Some speak of the light at the end of the tunnel. I found acceptance to be like the weight I was struggling under, lift off of me in gradual stages. Which met the time I left Cambridgeshire and returned to London, the city of my birth. I felt hopeful and excited finally, about the possibility of what had the potential to be.