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Grieving in Pieces

The real truth about grief and loss

Grief is defined as a reaction to a major loss. It is most often an unhappy or painful emotion. The NIH discusses the stages of grief:

There can be five stages of grief. These reactions might not occur in a specific order, and can (at times) occur together. Not everyone experiences all of these emotions:

  • Denial, disbelief, numbness

  • Anger, blaming others

  • Bargaining (for instance "If I am cured of this cancer, I will never smoke again.")

  • Depressed mood, sadness, and crying

  • Acceptance, coming to terms

People who are grieving may have crying spells, some trouble sleeping, and lack of productivity at work.

I've experienced in my personal life the loss of both my parents, my beloved grandmother, my grandfather and assorted aunts and uncles. As opposed to many of my friends, I've lost more family members and have quite a history of having to cope with grief. That is partly why the loss of my son, Noah was such a surprising, no shocking experience of grief. His death at the age of 29 broke my spirit. Yes, I've experienced all of the five stages listed above. What isn't talked about much are that:

  1. Sometimes grief can be raw and wrenching and you may feel like there's no way back or through the pain.
  2. Grief can catch you unawares. You may feel as if you've come to terms with your loss for long periods of time when out of the blue, seemingly, you experience a grief smack-down!
  3. No one can tell you how long you will grieve or even if it will ever end.
  4. But most puzzling is that even when you actively work on your grief - go to therapy, get support, take medication if and when needed, get EMDR, etc. — grief may come back in pieces. You may think you've gotten all the cobwebs of grief from your psychological and emotional attic, only to discover under the sink or behind the door another piece of grief lurking, waiting to be discovered.

This last happened in my life recently at a time when I would have expected to be very happy. Instead, I found myself slumping into a familiar quagmire of grief — unable to get off the couch, watching way too much TV, eating lots of sweets. I realized that the happy event had triggered a part of Noah's and my life together that I didn't recognize as a grief magnet. As I began to process the fear and sadness I felt, I felt a wave of grief rising up in me. For the first time in many years since his death, I felt profoundly lonely for him. I missed deeply his kind nature. I felt bereft thinking of all the special occasions that we would not share in the future. All of my spiritual reconciliations and the "gift" from living through his death paled in comparison to the cracking sensation in the middle of my chest where I once had a complete heart. My grief screamed to be heard and wouldn't temper its demands despite the seven years since Noah's passing.

I'd like to say I have learned something from this that makes my life more meaningful. But that's not the case. What I have learned is that grief happens in pieces. I have no idea how many pieces are left. I do know that it helps to address those pieces when they show up rather than running from them or trying to ignore their presence. And piece by piece is how I'm putting my life without Noah back together.