Monday, March 13, 2017

Grief Journal: Stages of Grief

I was recently reminded that I read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' On Death and Dying for a book report in high school.  My step-mother would die about a year later, and I would learn the emotional responses to grief fit this schema as well.  Some years later, Kubler-Ross' interviews and research substantiated this intuition.  After all, the death of a near friend or loved one means the death of the relationship; a death, if you will, of the person you were in relation to the deceased.

The following is based on the stages of dying; I have not yet read her book On Grief and Grieving.  I've put it on hold at the local library.


My brother maintained a practice of emailing several articles a day.  Somehow, he had created custom lists of topics different people were interested in, and would send links related to those topics - sort of a bespoke Brain Pickings.  The last email I received, on Saturday, February 25,  included a link to this article.  I responded, which is rare, and my brother thought my response missed the point.  It took the rest of the day to form an answer, which I sent about 7:30 Sunday morning.

As it turns out, he was probably in the hospital by this time.

Monday came, Tuesday went, and I began to wonder why I hadn't received any articles.  Now, there had been a previous break in my brother's emails - when he had suffered a heart attack on Tuesday, November 29 - which he referred to as "a bit of a bother" a week later.  So, I let it go.

Then, around 9:00 Wednesday morning, March 1, the thought occurred to me: "I wonder if he's gone?"  Later that morning, a mutual friend called with the news that my brother was in the hospital and was not expected to recover.

So: I began a process of denying that reality.  I thought he'd get better.  After all, he survived the heart attack.  But he died around 3:45 that same afternoon.

For the first few days after that, I couldn't shake the notion it was a bad dream.  I was weepy, crying in my sleep, as I've said elsewhere.  I found myself mourning the loss one moment, then considering practical matters the next.  Then, chiding myself for worrying about practical matters. 


I get enraged more easily.  I'm annoyed by the chatter of my co-workers - how dare they enjoy life while I mourn the loss of my brother!  I identify with the words of Auden's “Funeral Blues”: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone ....”  I want the world to stop; I want to proclaim the tragic news from the mountain top, or in skywriting.

Last week, I released a stream of profane words, featuring the "F" word, because a co-worker was not performing a task exactly as I would.  Happily, I had the office to myself at the time.

Saturday evening, I came home to find a large pick-up truck using my drive to turn around.  Now this is a pet peeve in the best of times.  I felt the rage burning through me.  I was just this side of fisty-cuffs.  Happily, I restrained myself.

For the most part, I think I'm restraining my anger when appropriate, and venting it when safe.  I hope it's not leaking out at the sides, as can often happen with repressed rage.  If it does, I hope people will take it in the context of my loss.   There is, as I've mentioned, a "get out of jail" bonus to grief.  I pray I don't abuse it.


I have not offered to trade my life for my brother's.  It likely helps that I don't think the G-d of my (lack of) understanding works that way.

Instead, I rehearse various wishes and regrets: I wish I had visited him late last year, as I was encouraged to do.  I regret the years we lost between Padre's death and when we reconnected.  I wish I could share this article, or YouTube video with him.  I regret that I had not recorded my two latest songs on YouTube, so he could have heard them before he died.

I've been a bit more profligate in spending since my brother's death.  I haven't spent myself into debt, but it's something I know I need to keep an eye on.  Many times when I'm tempted, I ask myself: do I really believe this object will bring my brother back?  Or: do I really want this object cluttering my house?

I find myself spending money in my brother's name: I threw money in a busker's hat at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. I bought Girl Scout cookies, in honor of the affection he had for his granddaughter.  Admittedly, I don't know if she was a Campfire Girl (she's 18 now); but it was a misty chilly morning, and somehow I thought he would feel the same compassion I did.

I'm considering donating to public broadcasting (both TV and Radio), thinking he might have done the same.


Richard Fariña wrote a book titled Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up to Me; I've never read it, but I've always loved that title.  Although this novel addresses the myth of the 60s, the title seems like a good description of depression. 

What are some signs of depression? 

  • Distrubance in sleep patterns.
  • Lack of appetite. 
    Debatable.  Since I primary eat out of boxes, I take little pleasure in my normal repast.  I eat to prevent low blood sugar events.  That anger I mentioned earlier?  Would be even worse if blood sugar dips too low.  I know, just like the Snickers' commercial.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in your activities
    Well, I enjoyed jamming with friends last night, but keeping this journal is becoming a chore.  Toss-up.
  • Feelings restless and agitated, or else very sluggish and slowed down physically or mentally
    Honestly, I've had my manic moments and my weary moments.  About 50/50, I guess
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
    Not totally.  Or, no more than normal.
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
    Though I sometimes attribute that to my disturbed sleeps patterns
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Nope.  Well, not since the first couple of days. 
    There have been a few times I've been tempted to drink full-potency alcohol.  Friends in the AA Program would suggest that's the same as feeling suicidal.  However, I have not so much as gone into a liquor store.

And - what am I doing about it?

  • Taking St. John's Wort, although I've been told it can take a while to be effective.  I've learned that if I give it time, my mood does improve.
  • Walking outside, weather permitting
  • Getting out of the house more.  Thus, I went to a concert the week of my brother's death with my friend MT.  I walked the Live! On the Plaza event this past Friday.  I jammed with friends Sunday evening.  Going to grief counseling this Thursday, and possibly a different group next week.  I'm likely to go to a concert this Friday.
  • When home, I don't allow myself much space to brood.  I read, listen to music, surf the web, or watch TV.  TV has long been my drug of choice, and - on the whole - is less self-destructive than alcohol or other options.
  • I'll be going back to work tomorrow.  But I'll also allow myself to leave early, or take additional time, as seems fit.  That one, I'm playing by ear.


Kubler-Ross made clear that these stages are not something a person works through sequentially.  And, even if the person finds a moment of Acceptance, s/he may quickly find him/herself back at Bargaining or Depression.  So, there are moments when I accept this is my new reality: I live in a world that no longer has my brother on it.

And, I get teary typing that sentence.

One thing I've learned from previous losses is that grief comes on in waves.  The first month or so, the waves are especially intense.  Then, over time, their power diminishes.  It took me about a year to feel fully recovered after Padre died.  I imagine this process will be similar.

Grief is never gone, not entirely.  There are days I still miss Padre, although the ache is less intense than it was the months after he died.

The best I can do is keep on walking.  The shore may seem endless, but it's a shore I've walked before.  I know I can survive this.  It may never get better; I'll have to learn to live without a brother, as I learned to live without a father.  But it is survivable.

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