The five stages of grief, as delineated by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are familiar even to those not on the grief journey. But the notion that once broached each is conquered is completely false. My therapist had a more helpful analogy:
Think of a clear cylinder filled with a heavy liquid, like motor oil.
There are five ping pong balls in this cylinder. Each bears one of the words:
denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Shake the cylinder and notice which balls float up.
It will be different each time but you’ll see them all.
Rotating phases as opposed to some idealized grand staircase. Before this idea came into my life, I found myself wondering if I was “doing it correctly,” since I wasn’t experiencing the pain in linear progression.
Denial? Until the moment he died, my husband was in denial. I was not. I suspected the outcome the moment the diagnosis was uttered. As time and the disease marched on, I was confirmed as his denial increased in inverse proportion. Now that he’s gone, I’m paralyzed and find taking nearly any action overwhelming. Maybe that’s my current form of denial.
Anger reared a big ugly head for me both before and after he died, directed at people who certainly didn’t deserve it. Apologies have been offered but not accepted. A painful scar but mine to bear.
As for bargaining, depression, and acceptance, I can only claim deep familiarity with a depression so thick I feel suffocated, sometimes. But I’m working through it. I have therapy. I have meds. I have friends and family frantic to do anything they can for me, who are often understanding when I say, “sorry, I need to be alone.”
Everyday is a new shake of the cylinder. And someday, I’ll focus on one ball: acceptance. I can’t quite imagine but I know it will be true. Someday.