The unspoken stage of grief: selfishness

I started to think about the nature of grief recently, prompted by the sudden death of a two friends: one a couple of years older than me, the other about 15 years younger. I asked myself – “Why the tears”?

I am a person of faith; I believe in an afterlife, Heaven if you will. I believe dying is going home to God, the oft-used expression “a better place”. So why am I grieving? Why aren’t I holding a party to celebrate friends who are “in a better place”?

I know why. It’s because I won’t share another coffee, joke, confidence or minute with my friends again. I’ll miss them, mourn their loss and say in the one breath, “It’s so sad, but they are in a better place”.

So I am prompted to ask, “Is grief selfish”? Is it all about me instead of the person who died?

The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, is “a series of emotional stages experienced when faced with impending death or death of someone”, exactly what I am facing in my life at present. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

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Looking at these individually:

  • Denial (no it’s not happening) – well it is and if I think it’s bad, what about the person who died?
  • Anger (this is so unfair) – okay but why am I angry, it’s not about me?
  • Bargaining (if this changes, I’ll be a better person) – nice idea, but again what value is this to my friends?
  • Depression (I’m so unhappy) – again so what? You are alive why should you be depressed?
  • Acceptance (I might as well live with it) – what is the alternative?

I’m in stage 4 at present – I’m depressed, not the deep depression requiring medication, but the feeling sorry for myself depression – and yes, it’s about me again.

John was very much at peace with his life and had recently started a new job, which he loved. He was in his early 50s and we used to have “legendary” telephone calls – 60 minutes in, we were just getting started. We knew each other over 30 years, even went to his 21st birthday party. We talked mainly about theatre, movies and the stars thereof. He loved ABBA and was a great gossip, to the point where some nicknamed him Hedda, after the Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper. But, when a mutual friend died some years ago, he was a constant visitor, keeping everyone in the hospice smiling through their tears.

Tess was a new friend; we only knew each other about 2 years, but our meeting was serendipitous. Tess was larger than life, a beautiful soul, compassion to spare and a good mind. She loved to talk and she loved her family. Her blog, Life with Tess, spoke about the simple things of life, but also shared the big issues. We had many similar experiences in our lives, many things in common, not least of which, our shared faith and our love of books. At her funeral even the priest spoke of her love for people and her compassion, always finding the time to speak to someone and to lay a comforting hand on an arm or shoulder.

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Unselfishly, I wish both Tess and John had seen the fruition of some of their plans; overseas trips both were taking, seeing her grandchildren grow to adulthood for Tess. Selfishly I am going to miss them and that is where my heart and mind are at present. Selfishly I want their “better place” to be here with me! I want to go to book club and have Tess there with her wonderful smile and insightful comments; I want to get on the phone to John and gossip.

I’ll grieve a little longer before I reach stage 5, Acceptance, when:

You can shed tears that they are gone

or you can smile because they lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that they’ll come back

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or you can open your eyes and see all they left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see them

or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday

or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

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You can remember them and only that they’ve gone

or you can cherish their memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back

or you can do what they want: smile, open your eyes,

love and go on.

Author Unknown

I doubt there is anyone in our community who hasn’t experienced death and grief, it is a part of life; would you like to share? Have you felt like Karen? Have you felt a bit selfish for your sadness?