There’s an old joke about the kids at show and tell day at school. When asked to bring in a symbol of their faith, the Catholic brought his Rosary, the Baptist brought her Bible, and the Methodist brought a casserole and a plate of cookies. The never ending feast begins here and continues in the hereafter. We don’t so much grieve as we eat our way back to joy.
In her book “On Death and Dying”, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described a type of emotional journey among people who are facing death. We know these as the “Stages of Grief or Loss” today. No one actually goes from Point A to Point B on this journey by stages, for it sometimes feels like a wandering in a wilderness without a compass at times.
Grief isn’t one-dimensional: It manifests in a jumble of intense emotions. Dealing with grief isn’t a linear progression, but a whole process with chaotic twists and turns. How these “stages” relate to each other has very little to do with logical thinking. Actually, the emotional logic of grief is in the jumble of emotions. It’s a one dish meal, or a large casserole, more than a discrete dinner of separate courses.
The process of grieving is a series of frantic moves to re-orient to the world after a big loss has left you emotionally off-balance (disoriented). Even those of us who have learned to eat for health will find ourselves eating for comfort, not eating at all, or perhaps lying on the couch, unable to move more than our hand to change the tv station. And find ourselves dipping our hand into a bag to lift out one small, densely caloric sweet, fat, salty snack to savor bite by bite.
You may want to keep this in mind as you read the following description of the famous “stages”.
Typically, the seven stages of grief are described as:
– Shock or Disbelief
– Acceptance and Hope
This is not a mechanistic model — the stages do not occur the same way for all people; they can last very little time, or a lot of time; and they can be inter-related. They can reoccur at any point in the process, and one can begin the process anew.
Typically, the first reaction to news of impending doom is shock or disbelief, followed by denial: It’s not true, it can’t possibly happen to me, there must be a mistake–this kind of thing only happens to others, doesn’t it? Saturday I was eating a small plate of barbecue ribs at the Loose Cannon Restaurant when I got the call about my daughter’s death. She was 36 years old. A child isn’t supposed to die before their parent. I don’t remember the taste of those ribs at all, for I was numb, even to my taste buds.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross observed that facing the reality of death leads people to feel very angry, resentful, rageful. This is so unfair! I wasn’t angry or resentful, for she’d been on the streets since she was 13. Street years are hard years. She was paranoid schizophrenic, bipolar and a borderline personality. She refused help, medication, and hurt the ones who tried to help her. I thought I was prepared, but you can never emotionally prepare for the death of someone you love, even if you expect it.
I spent Sunday on my couch, only making a little soup out of the leftovers in the icebox for lunch. Breakfast was a muffin with cream cheese and dried dates. Dinner was cottage cheese, peanut butter and frozen fruit. Monday I thought, “This is a good time for GRIEF BACON.” A couple of fried eggs, and I can say I cooked! Start the day like a person who is alive! I had a protein bar for lunch and a small salad for dinner out on the patio with friends. Two meals made. Grief bacon is a great pain reliever.
Death is a part of life, for those of us who believe in Jesus as the son of God. We too become sons and daughters of God and can have the joy of the new life in this world as well as the eternal life in the next. Death may be invincible in taking our bodies, but death never has the final victory over our souls. For many people, death brings up the issues of guilt and bargaining, for there were unresolved issues on this side of life.
What do people do when they keep bumping their heads against the seeming invincibility of their opponent? This is the time for unrealistic bargaining – I’ll give you this, and you’ll give me what I want. There’s nothing wrong about bargaining – when it is based on offering the other party something they might really be interested in. It may not be very realistic to try to bargain with natural forces, illness, death…
This is when we go to DEFCON 2–or GRIEF BACON 2: Chocolate Covered Bacon. State Fair Food rules these higher stages of grief. Actually anything chocolate and salty will suffice. Monday I finally had on clothes and went out grocery shopping. I bought chocolate eclair ice cream in a pint package. I added an ounce of salted mixed nuts to cut the sweetness. The half cup serving was enough. I wasn’t actually hungry.
Guilt is a way of making sense of what is happening, of regaining some form of control over the uncontrollable: “It must be my fault.” We are control freaks. If we only had a group called Control Freaks Anonymous, it would be standing room only. But meetings would need to be held in great outdoor stadiums, and it would be a test of everyone’s ability to “Let go and let God” on account of the varying weather, which would be like goldilock’s porridge: too cold, too hot, or just right for the whole group.
About this time I get a cooking bug. I am now at DEFCON 3–I am way past Bacon and onto the Hard Stuff! Cornie’s Kitchen goes into full production mode and my hapless taste testers will rate, suffer, or survive my latest concoction. My various “healthy, but chocolate” recipes are all the result of stress about things I can’t control. I can control the ingredients in the recipes, so I cook in the kitchen. If it turns out bad, or merely edible, or great, it’s all good. Trying to control people, events, or God will just make me crazy.
Once the reality of death sets in, the grieving person feels overwhelmed, and they may become depressed. All resistance is futile. This is DEFCON 4–NUCLEAR OPTION. This calls for chocolate cheesecake, not from a mix, not from a store, but the real McGill, as my daddy used to say. Or chocolate fudge pecan pie. I would not split it, nor take a small piece. One would be enough. In my earlier days, I would go to the doughnut store every morning, eat pie for desert at lunch, and eat a whole bowl of ice cream before bed at night. I medicated my emotions with carbohydrates. I didn’t want to deal with my pain and suffering, or the suffering I carried for others.
Anger, unrealistic bargaining, depression… this is our struggle against “real” problems in the outside world, but also against our own inner issues and problems.
Some dying people eventually reach a stage where they are fully aware of impending death, and neither angry nor depressed about it. They accept it. Acceptance of reality need not be synonymous with capitulation, humiliating defeat. There is a difference between accepting what is inescapable – like death, when you’re dying – and cowardly surrendering when you could have fought more. And acceptance need not mean losing your integrity – it can sometimes be quite the opposite. Acceptance is not betrayal.
Acceptance is about using the lessons we learned in life to come to terms with the realities of the world, on our own terms. As someone who loves her food, enjoys a healthier lifestyle, and wants others to share in this better way, I’m using food as a metaphor for the stages of grief.
While I’m using humor to explain these stages, grief is a serious business. It’s normal to grieve. I spent over twenty years in the ministry. I buried an average of 20 people per year; said farewell to over 400 souls in my years of service. These saints left many, many more behind to remember, celebrate, and grieve their life, death, and resurrection. Plus I served in seven different appointments in Texas and Arkansas. I made deep friends and colleagues in all those places, and had to grieve those whom I left behind as I went to serve in the next place. We can grieve for our lost youth, our lost joy, our lost loves, our former place in life or even our social status.
If you are grieving any form of loss, it doesn’t serve to deny the pain. Grief is a natural process, and there is an emotional logic to it. Riding it, as opposed to fighting it, will lead to healing. What helps is to observe it with compassion, to experience it without being swallowed by it. Grief therapy is about creating a gentle and healing environment that allows you to re-orient to the world after a disorienting loss.
http://www.dailybreadcounseling.org/ Arkansas counsellors & therapists
http://proactivechange.com/stress/grief-stages.htm source of 5 Stages of Grief List.