If I’d been asked to describe the progression of grief a few years ago, I would’ve assumed that it’d work through a nice orderly timeline. It’d start at the loss and work through different emotions (anger, sadness, frustration, etc.) in some sort of logical order. Each emotion would be a level and once worked through, you’d move on to the next stage in the process. Eventually, you would reach the finish line and, although it might not make you want to dance with joy, the subject would cause little or no pain and you would be back to “normal.”
I’ve since concluded that grief does not follow a systematic timeline with a designated, concrete finish. Instead, it often reminds me of a rollercoaster—up and down, to and fro, and all without any warning. You hang on so tight your fingers hurt, scream your head off, and try not to get sick on the unlucky person who is seated in front of you. You can go from being at acceptance, to anger, and then right back to just feeling depressed. And you would’ve felt like you had “worked through” each of those already.
The Process of Grief:
Grief is not a cycle—once you’ve worked through something you are on to the next “phase” and eventually completely done with the whole bloody process—because the feelings and struggles are always there, but it is impossible for anyone to try and deal with them all at the same time, so they come in waves. The process of working through grief does not inch along, slowly but surely, going in the “right” direction. It takes quantum leaps that seem to lead anywhere but forward, but eventually, someday, is not as wild. Life will never be the same, you will never be the same, because the hole the person—father, sister, grandma, friend, boyfriend—left in your heart is the shape of them and no one else quite fits … and never will.
Some days, I wake up feeling as if the world is almost as it should be, but the reality of what I’m dealing with can hit again leaving me feeling dazed. It makes me hesitate when answering “How are you?” because I don’t want to drag everyone I know along on my personal bereavement rollercoaster. If I cry when talking, they assume life must be “bad,” but if I am able to smile while reporting the details of life to them, then life must be “good.” But the dad-shaped hole is always the same, always there.
Neither “Bad” nor “Back-to-Normal”:
Often, it seems as if people are only able to place me in one of their mental boxes. If I am in the “Poor Kelsey” box, they will ask sympathetic questions and make sad eyes. When placed in this bereavement social box, people seem to forget I am even capable of talking about anything lighter than grief, death, bereavement, and the like, or would even want to do something simply for enjoyment.
On the other hand, if I find myself stuck in the “Life is Fine” box when I mention something about my dad’s health and how life is going, they will look surprised for a moment and comment, “Oh, that’s right… how is your dad anyways?” They had either forgotten anything was even happening or assumed I had finally “moved on” and are surprised to discover I am still thinking about it.
Honestly, I hate being in either social box—”bereaved” or “back-to-normal”—because both are such horribly inaccurate representations of my life. Some of it might simply be that people can’t understand what the process of working through grief looks like because they still think it follows a timeline with a designated deadline, so they do not understand why I don’t feel “better” yet or why I haven’t moved on to the next “stage” or simply gotten “over it.” The trouble is, there aren’t clearly defined linear stages that move you along at a brisk pace towards the finish line. Grief is just one wild ride.