Waiting in the Midst of Grief
My best understanding of grief is that it is circular, not linear.
In 1972 when Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross wrote On Death & Dying, we were invited into a new language around -- and insights about -- grief. In this book, Dr. Kuebler-Ross gave us hooks and resting points for understanding and communicating with one another in our seasons of grief. She described grief in stages: denial, bargaining, anger, sadness/depression and acceptance. Although I am forever grateful for this work of opening doors to help us in our understanding of grief, this image of stages hasn’t always felt exactly true. It hasn't been enough. Stages of grief implied that we were to engage grief as a linear exercise or as a check list. Over my life, grief has not been like that. Places and moments of grief come around and back again.
Loops of two or three or even four stages can sometimes be circling round me at the same time. These cycles are never really measurable or orderly. In no way predictable, rarely if ever do these circles feel very manageable. Sometimes, when I’m able to pay attention, these loops can be seen as who and what they are. Just circles. Other times, they feel all-consuming. Somehow, it's as though these loops swallow me up and become my identity, become all that I know myself to be. One place or stage leading into another. Sometimes stopping and staying, sometimes feeling like a whirling dervish, round and round again.
This current looping place where I have been grieving is bargaining, anger and sadness. One loop feeds or dumps or belly-flops into the other. Bargaining. This unrealistic time of wishing, believing, hoping beyond hope that something will change. This bargaining with the universe that this awful, life-changing loss didn’t really happened. Bargaining can even be the emotional exercise of hoping myself into believing that what has been lost will be found again. But what has been lost cannot be found. It does not, it will not return. Next is anger. In this place I find myself revisiting this impossible-loss that hasn't/that won't be changed and what is now truly my reality. In facing this stark, ugly truth I can become immersed in rage. When the energy runs out of being consumed by anger, what is left for me is only sadness. And somehow, somewhere along the way an impossible, unrealistic hope returns and then the grief cycle begins again.
Advent has found me ready for a new season. My wounded and weary heart feels similar to these growing-darker days. AND I believe in my wounded and weary heart of hearts that just by entering into the season, there are songs and rituals that can bring a loving, resting place for this old, suffering spirit of mine. O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
This journey to Bethlehem is not one that can be experienced by looping round and round. Staying on this merry-go-round will not bring peace or healing. A merry-go-round won't take me anywhere. It will only go round and round. It won't lead me where I am praying to go in these coming days. There is a star to follow. There are hills and valleys to cross. Left foot, right foot I am invited, called, bound to step out into the story that is greater than my pain. Left foot, right foot I am seeking the One who created and is creating still. I seek to follow the One who knows me and my story as well or even better than I do, the One who calls me by name.