Grief is Experienced, Not Learned

I am a nurse. Actually an advanced practice one (Nurse Practitioner). So, when I say I have learned about the stages of grief, I am for real. I am currently working on my Doctoral in Nursing Practice and I am enrolled in the third theory of nursing class in my life. You could say Kubler-Ross and I are pretty tight;)

I have stood at patient’s bed sides as they died. I have counseled families on why their relative was not going to make it. I have treated patients with terminal illnesses and I have treated family members grieving due to the loss of a loved one. I have seen it all and have been equipped with the skills and license to deal with it.

However, there is not enough college education, not enough licenses or degrees to prepare you for personal loss and grief.

You can never really understand it until you have experienced it yourself.

I lost my brother 6 weeks ago. He was only 41 years old. He left behind a wife and two seven-year old twins. A son and a daughter. Miracle babies in that we never thought they would get them. He was a good man. No, he was a great man. The kind that never made an enemy and befriended those whom no one else would. He had suffered from a chronic illness that eventually wore his body down and took his life.

He was my baby brother. My only sibling. My first friend. My first adversary. His list of attributes could take up an entire blog and more. Even in the worst times, when he was in pain and worried about his future and his health, he never failed to lend a smile to others. To say a kind word or even apologize for his inability to give more of himself at the time. That was just my brother. He had been that way his whole life.

I’ve lost grandparents. I loved my grandmother dearly and was sad when she died, but she lived a long life. She was my grandparent and I expected to live to see her death. Not my baby brother’s.

Having said all of this, I can say with confidence I understand grief now. And it is not the result of an education, a degree or a license. I know grief from experience. An experience I am still fully immersed in.

I know the heaviness in your heart firsthand. I can explain to others what the physical ache you carry around feels like. I recognize the inability to find happiness in life and the anger you feel when others try to thrust it upon you. I can justify the rage and the injustice that you deal with because “it just isn’t fair”.

I know the guilt that comes from carrying on with your everyday life despite the fact someone very important to you is missing from it. The guilt you feel for being healthy, having a good life and being alive. The guilt you feel for just laughing or smiling.

I’ve yet to find a theory or philosophy that encompasses all the emotions and phases of grief. Maybe it is because each human being has their own.

I have read, memorized, studied and been tested on Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief. I’ve been through most of them the past six weeks and revisited many more than once. I am not at acceptance yet.

I do know this: it is forever changing. Some days I wake in tears. Some days I wake with a contentment about things to only find myself blindsided later that day by something said, something I saw or a song I heard.

Some days I want to talk about him to everyone. Strangers, family, friends, the dog! I look through pictures, I post them on social media, I read the text he sent me and listen to a voice mail from him that is still on my phone. I start some mornings listening to the songs we played at his funeral. I want to soak in his memory. Other days I can barely let his memory cross my mind’s eye without a clinching in my gut and a sting in my eyes. In fear that at any moment I will lose control of my emotions and not be able to reign them back in. Some days I want to avoid my family because of the pain. I dread my daily call to mom. What if she wants to talk about him? I avoid texting or calling my sister-in-law, niece and nephew. To hear their voices is to bring him back to the forefront of my mind and to cause an ache in my heart that I just cannot bear that day.

A friend of mine lost a grandfather the day before my brother died. She posted this to her Facebook wall and I found her words so appropriate and moving:

“Sometimes, there just are not words… just the overwhelming sensation of losing someone. Though I want to tell everyone just so there can be some release, I want to tell no one because the words are just too heavy. And, by speaking them, they become real. And, that reality is hard… overwhelmingly hard. Today, with your departure from this earth, I selfishly grieve in hopes to rejoice tomorrow in your memory.”

I have learned that nothing is set in stone and although some stages of grief are identifiable, they do not follow a particular order, pattern or rationale. Sometimes you are experiencing two stages at one time and at other times you are just walking around on autopilot and not processing anything at all.

I feel we were all in denial through out his funeral and the days to follow. I felt numb to it and looking back was in a dream like state. Denial is a safety mechanism that your brain utilizes to prevent breakdown.

Although I do not feel “bargaining” has been one of the stages I have experienced, it may have come in another form I do not readily identify. But anger? Yes, I have felt anger the most.

I am angry he had to die so young. I am angry he will not see his children grow up. He will not be at their high school graduation or walk my niece down the aisle on her wedding day. I am angry they finally found a way to eradicate the disease that killed him but it was too late for my brother. I am angry that he was doing so much better this time last year and we had no idea at that time we only had one year left with him.

I am angry that life goes on. I am angry that others are happy, events are scheduled, holidays are celebrated, people are laughing and smiling.

I am angry that I didn’t do more even though I am not sure what more I could have done. I am angry about words I said to him or that I may have pushed him too hard just because I wanted him to be better. I am angry that he never got to take his children to DisneyWorld. And, our family will never have another beach trip with him.

I am angry his children will not ever experience firsthand what a fun guy he was. I am angry he was sick the majority of their lives. I am angry that he and his wife fought so hard and had so many disappointments before they finally had those babies and he only got seven short years with them.

I am angry that his life was not only short but full of heartache, disappointment, stress and worry. I am angry that he felt so bad the last few years of his life. I am angry that an infection anyone else would not be affected by killed my brother because he was immunocompromised.

How do I deal with so much anger? Well, days I don’t deal well at all. But, some days I do okay. Mostly, I pray.

I pray for comfort and acceptance. I pray for a way to cope. I pray for meaning but I know that meaning is so beyond my comprehension I could never understand. I pray for peace.

I thank God for the time he gave us with Marc. I praise Him for his grace and the promise of eternal life through Him. I try to focus on the hope and assurance I have that I will be with my brother again someday.

I try to focus on the good things in life. What Marc left us with and the memories we shared with him. I try to be the way Marc would want us to be. Happy, joking, loving one another and everybody we meet.

This grief is a personal journey. It is not text book and it is definitely not comparable to anyone else’s experience with it. Your grief is your own. So, I am working through it. One day at a time and sometimes one hour at a time. I have faith God will see me through and I will be “okay” one day.

It helps to talk to others who have experienced it. I now know why support groups are so instrumental.  I’ve found comfort in hearing another’s story of loss and grief. That may sound strange, but I guess it is true that misery does love company…

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2 thoughts on “Grief is Experienced, Not Learned

  1. I don’t know how I have not lost my mind over the last year and a half except for God. So many of the emotions you describe are the same ones I have had and continue to have. I have watched some old movies since losing my siblings and saw the people in mourning wearing black. I guess that tradition was so everyone would know, understand and give space for a period of healing that was so necessary. Today we seem to get pushed in to what people refer as your “normal routine” so you can “get over it better”. Life is forever altered and I will never get over it or get used to it. I quickly noticed that the people that have lost someone too early in life and actually had been through it were telling me you will never get over it. The ones that had not experienced it were full of good religious sounding lines that I think they truly thought was helpful; but, it was not. It is not fair!!! Like you, I trust God that there is a reason. Regardless of the reason, it still leaves me in great pain and I daily have to put that pain on God because I just cannot bear it. I know that I must have joy in the Lord; and, I am daily working at getting there. It is a year this Wednesday that on a regular day as we went about out jobs being good, responsible employees that my brother, all of a sudden, was gone. As I sat with my family at the hospital I cried out to God to heal him and let him live but he died anyway. I just could not get why God would allow this so soon after Trish. We were still grieving for her. We could not even get through the viewing without having to send my Dad to the ER by ambulance because of his blood pressure. The cardiologist working on Rick that day had to send my Dad down to the ER because of his blood pressure after they told us he was gone. All I could think of to tell Dad was that no matter what we are going through that as a family of faith we will not curse God! I told him that he had led our family in serving God my whole life and that we cannot lose our souls at the end of the road. God had a plan for my Rick and Trish; and, for your Marc. And, somehow, they fulfilled that plan even though we do not understand. They have their reward in Heaven; and, because they are there, I long to go even more. I want to complete my assignment on Earth and show Jesus to someone. I know I cannot do that in a dark place. So, little by little, I look toward the light and make my way out of the deep, dark hole of despair that life thrust me into. And, I can only do so by celebrating my dear siblings and the wonderful people they are. They are alive and well with Jesus just like Marc is. Our love has to span a great divide to reach all the way to Heaven but I know they can feel it; and, we can feel them!!! So, I will pray for you and your family as you each find your way out of your dark place through the light of Jesus. Life on earth will never be the same; and, a piece of your joy is just gone forever. I just pray for all of us that peace that the Bible tells us we can have that is not even understandable to have in our circumstances. My love to you my sweet friend!!!

    • Thank you, Sherri. It does help to hear others who have been through the grief (and still going through it) to tell you they know what you are feeling and offer advice, words of comfort, or just a smile or a hug. I feel so guilty for saying to others so many times “he’s in a better place” or “I’m praying for comfort for you”. I know he is in a better place but right now I am not. At the moment I don’t want to get on with life. I want it to stop so I can grieve my brother longer. Everyday brings a new emotion and often many different emotions. But, yes, like you I give it to God. There are times I am crippled from it and I beg him to take it off of me. At times I feel serenity in the tears. Indulging myself in a trip down memory lane, writing in my journal or blogging about him. I never know what I will wake to find or how I will feel. I am just taking it a day at a time.

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