Facing Grief, Again

Have you ever sat on the beach in the sand to let the waves wash over you? It’s peaceful (minus the sand that gets in your swimsuit) until a huge wave comes out of nowhere, crashes into you, and knocks you over. Causing you to roll around and it pulls you into the ocean. I discovered this is sort of like grief. You think you are way past grieving but then every once in a while, like a big wave, grief crashes over you.

It happened to me the other day.

Our 2 year old boy we are fostering, KD, has so much spirit, joy, energy, and is always laughing. We love him so much. Well he kept climbing on top of a cardboard box to jump off into Emily’s arms. Right before he jumps he does this cute little thing where he holds his arms out with his palms up to signal to the person to do the same. He won’t jump until he knows the person catching him is ready. I’m on one side of the box watching the action.

This time when he gets to the top he turns my way and signals to me to hold out my arms. He wants me to catch him. My heart melts with joy then quickly sinks. I so badly want to catch him but I can’t… I want to explain to him that if I was able to I would catch him over and over again whenever he wanted me to. I just don’t have the strength. Emily grabs him to help guide his jump into my lap, which is a nice alternative but it is not the same. After a few jumps he is over it and goes back to jumping to Emily. Sadness washes over me and I feel my eyes water.

I was confused by this rush of sadness and grief. I have completely accepted and even appreciate my life as a quadriplegic. I have a great life and wouldn’t go back in time to change it. I thought I had moved past grieving… Perhaps you have felt something similar to a loss in your life. I did some research and this is what I have found.

Introduced by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are 5 stages of grieving. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and lastly acceptance. These stages typically occur after devastating news.

To put it into context, imagine you’re on an important work Zoom call then all of a sudden you spill coffee on your computer. It starts glitching, turns off and won’t turn back on. You might quickly go through denial “No, this can’t be happening.” Then you get angry and start hitting a bunch of buttons. Then you start pleading and bargaining “Please, please work!” After all of this sadness and hopelessness comes rushing in and you start feeling depressed about the situation. Finally, you go into acceptance and start figuring out a way to inform your client about what happened and use your phone to call back into the meeting.

This example has a resolution at the end, but unfortunately most grief is due to a permanent loss. A resolution does not exist. Therefore, just because you arrive at acceptance doesn’t mean that’s the end of the road, the solution, or the place where pain doesn’t exist. Grief is unpredictable, complex (like us), and not linear. You will have times, like I did, when grief sneaks in unexpectedly even after you have accepted it.

So the next time a grief wave hits you from out of nowhere don’t be alarmed. It happens and nothing is wrong with you. You can’t rush grief and if you short change the process can actually lead to long term painful consequences.

When I welcome grief instead of trying to quickly push it aside is when I feel a great surge of motivation to make some real changes in my life. Grief has led me to discover new ways of being active and present with my wife and kids, encouraged me to go adaptive snow skiing, changed how I handle stressful situations or arguments, and motivated me to reach out to friends and family I haven’t spoken to in some time.

So next time try to welcome grief. Don’t fight it and see what gifts it has to offer you.