I was reading something today, and it said that to manage grief, one must understand the stages of grief.
I am throwing the bullshit flag on that.
I mean, the five stages that we all can parrot—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—were first created based on terminally ill patients’ reactions to learning of their diagnosis. It wasn’t about learning to live with the loss of a loved one at all. But it’s become accepted to the point that now any grief, caused by death or not, is said to have stages.
Life isn’t that neat. In my experience, grief doesn’t have stages. Grief has pain.
Like pain, you can rate it on a scale of 1 equals “not a lot” to 10 equals “kill me now.” The level will vary from day to day and even moment to moment. There’s a handy chart to help you communicate the level of pain you feel. You might have seen it at your doctor’s office:
Sometimes I wish I could wear that chart with a little arrow, letting everyone know where I am and why maybe I don’t want to talk, or why I’m being weird or bitchy.
Pain has other qualities besides just intensity. I have fibromyalgia and central pain syndrome. When I go to my doctor’s office, they hand me a line drawing of a human being and a pile of colored markers. I use the different colors to show where my pain is and the quality—burning, stabbing, dull, sharp, numbness, tingling, etc.
Along with the level of pain, the quality of my grief varies too. Sometimes the pain is stabbingly sharp but a lower level on the scale and passes quickly. Other times it’s off the charts numbness and a pervasive dull ache that takes over everything.
What’s weird is that just like my fibromyalgia pain, there isn’t any cure for my grief. Even if I went through the five stages—and let’s be honest, most of the time I’m the first four all at once—acceptance would not be a cure. The most I can ever hope for with fibromyalgia is a lessening of symptoms. That some combination of therapies, physical and mental, will lessen the symptoms’ impact on my daily life.
My grief for Charlie is just like that. So grief isn’t a process; it’s a chronic disease. All you can hope for is to cope with it as best you can.
Knowing that is true acceptance. Take that, Five Stages of Grief.