Denial is More Than a River in Egypt

file9091344746881Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. These are the five stages of grief according to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

I read today about denial in Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go. She writes that denial presents itself as trying to control, focusing on others and neglecting self. I’ll also add obsessive thinking to the list.

Yes, I’m guilty of each of those pieces of the definition of denial as my sweetie and I struggle to come to terms with her job loss nearly 10 months after mine.

“Denial is more than a river in Egypt”

About nine months into recovery, more than 20 years ago, I regularly saw a therapist famous for the denial quote above. I can still hear her sassy laughter each time she said it to me–which was frequently–and it never failed to piss me off.

Yet I still practice denial every day when I try to make something different than it is. Melody explains that we want to wrap our grief in a neat and tidy package. People like me, who crave structure, want the steps of grief to clearly show themselves so that we can walk through each door, take a deep breath and close it firmly behind us. Done with denial. Check. Move on.

I suppose if life were that robotic, we could smile stiffly and say, “No worries now. I’m good.” Or, more correctly, mutter through gritted teeth, “I am FINE!”

Do I need to spell out the FINE acronym for you?

Grief takes what it takes

The point is, I think, that grief is not a single-shot destination; it takes what it takes to get there. Even when we reach the last stage–acceptance–we’re not finished. Grief is fluid; a momentary flash of acceptance is a terrific relief, but we’re probably not going to stay there. Chances are something will trigger a response in us that sends us back to anger or bargaining.

I most often circle back to those two stages–anger and bargaining–when I find myself anxious about money, which in the 10 months since I lost my job, happens a lot.

Like every other particle of my life, I must be present to grief. Not in a boo-hoo way (although tears are appropriate when grieving), but in a “here I am” way.

Showing up for grief is like taking medicine–you do it so you will feel better. When you have an infection, you’re told to finish the entire bottle of antibiotics. When you’re grieving, you have to go through all five steps, sometimes out of order and sometimes over and over again.

Two things I know for sure: Although grief over a major loss may never completely go away, it does lessen in intensity. And, grief changes you. Too often grief hardens people into a cynical knot of negativity. More often, I think, when we stay present to our grief, we remain malleable.

Sometimes keeping my heart soft is not the easiest thing to do, but I keep trying because I know joy lies on the other side of grief.

Photo courtesy of ronmerk

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