When your loved one is given a terminal diagnosis you start the grieving early.
I have long known about the Five Stages of grief but the Seven stage model seems better to reflect my previous experience of people dying.. Today I am conscious that despite writing this blog and talking so openly about my mother dying there is actually a significant part of me that doesn’t believe it. Then things like her car in the garage waiting to be collected, or the pots in the patio she has always watered or the sight of the unmade bed in her room will bring it home again.
With her pain under control, she is eating again and able to engage in the long conversations our family always have. These are always remarkably wide ranging. Today we talk about, my son loving, composing and playing music, the Heritage Open Day, Jeremy Corbyn and his lack of a proper shadow cabinet team and my personal obsession Donal Trump and his current flirtation with the Democrats.
She is remarkably resilient and now sitting up in bed rosy checked and alert she is ready to do battle with the powers that be. She is particularly critical of Michael Gove who she sees as the complete architect of what is wrong with the current educational system.
She also has specific targets for the local town council regarding new signs which she intends to have in place ‘before I fly away’.
In the car driving to the hospital with my dad I had hesitantly broached the subject of her funeral. Dad says, he thinks they should have X do it, bury her in the wood and have a celebration in the Cut Arts Centre.
In the ward mum tells us
‘I need to talk about something. I don’t want to upset you. But I want to talk about my funeral.’
I look at Dad. ‘We were talking about it in the car’ he said. I hold her hand and say ‘mum you can say anything to me. I don’t want you feeling you can’t talk about what’s on your mind’
Well she says ‘ I want X to do the service, I would like to be buried in the wood and there to be a big celebration in the Cut’.
My dad and I look at each other. I laugh and say ‘that’s exactly what Dad said’.
It was much easier discussing it than I thought it would be. In that moment mum’s death both seems more real and contrary wise also more unimaginable. For it is fine to plan with her, she is always full of good ideas. Just now she suggests having her choir sing and her old deputy from school speak. I can imagine it being a beautiful ceremony, the flowers, the music, food laid out in the cafe. But what I just can’t imagine is her being not there.
The 7 Stages of Grief:
1 SHOCK & DENIAL-
You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.
2 PAIN & GUILT-
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.
You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.
3 ANGER & BARGAINING-
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)
4 “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.
During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
5 THE UPWARD TURN-
As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.
6 RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
7 ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.
You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.
You have made it through the 7 stages of grief.