The leaves on the trees outside my window are beginning to turn. It is early yet; only August. Yet it is as if a memo was sent out with the news that the carefree days of summer are at an abrupt end. The foliage is fighting to remain green for the time and space allotted, but it is losing. Every day I see the results of changing temperatures on the landscape. It seems to have decided that the summer has been a tragedy, and there is simply no point in continuing. So it has terminated the summer, and we are in a quick rotation to fall and then winter.
This year I am on a quick track as well, my transition into the long dark night of depression coming early and hurtling me rather quickly into the hole from which I crawled just a few short months ago. I am not easing my way. Someone has suddenly shut off the lights and I am groping around for the familiar in a darkness that is fluid with grief and a sadness so profound I find it difficult to breath.
I should not be surprised. My family recently lost a beloved member, and we are still reeling from the impact. I am not closest to the core of the trauma. I am one rung removed, but I have lost someone I loved, nonetheless, and that alone is exceedingly impactful.
August is also the month my best friend from high school passed away. It has been a few years since she left this life, but I find I am always in a bit of a struggle to stay aloft when the anniversary of her passing goes by.
I can only speak for myself. I know others who suffer even more than I do in the wake of the tragedy that has touched so many of us. I, however, can only speak to my own experience, though I have not because I felt that in doing so, I was somehow taking away from grief greater than mind.
But I am a writer. This is what I do, as much for me as for others. This is how I make sense of the tremendous mountain of living I do internally that I struggle to share with anyone in the external, and so I must write this out, however awkward it may be due to disjointedness that comes as a result of shock and loss.
The grief that hangs about like a London fog, threatens to permeate everything and leave those in it unable to move or see anything. It is a gray nothingness that causes immediate surrender under its weight. But there is a way through it, and I am groping for it, hoping for it, even as I accept that its presence has thrown me into the depressive phase of my illness early, and I am now committed to it through conscription.
The path, many of us know. It is the 5 stages of grief, and I’m going to provide them here, as I need a reminder as much as anyone.
- Denial and Isolation- So often we cannot accept what has happened, and because the world continues to move around us at the same speed it always has, we need to stop and isolate just to try to wrap our head around what has happened. There is nothing wrong with isolation, but staying there is a really bad idea, and an indulgence a person who intends on living in the world at some point cannot afford for very long.
- Anger– This is the next stage and one that is also absolutely normal. There seems an unending supply of anger once a person allows it loose. There is anger for the diseased, for the fact that life has had the gall to continue, and so many other things and people. But be sure to look at anger and make aim it where it belongs. Do not tear apart your support system with anger that should be directed elsewhere.
- Bargaining– So this is a tough one. Bargaining is that thing where you start looking for some control of the situation; like you need to understand what happened, and you start trying to find areas that should have been better or have been done better. The “if/then” statements. My personal belief with this step is that it does not leave you with control, but it rather often leads you to guilt which keeps you from moving through the grief process.
- Depression– This is where the profound sadness takes over; a lack of wanting to continue on, the inability to cope with anything, and the absolute pain that fills the place where a person has been cut from our lives. There can also be the absence of any feeling at all; a plateau of gray. Depression can last for months or years, but to stay in this phase for a prolonged period of time is akin to being trapped in a swamp, slowly pulling you under. Seek help, whether medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
- Acceptance– I believe that this stage can come to anyone seeking it through the haze of loss, but it does not look the same for everyone. As such, I will not be so callous as to define it. If you reach acceptance, you will recognize it as a place where you can live with what has occurred. For some, there is new life in place of what has burned. For others it is an ability to survive in a barren place. But acceptance can only be recognized and defined on an individual basis.
We do not necessarily go through the stages in order. We may repeat stages, but it is not a good idea to skip any of the stages. This is not about the heart, though it is certainly involved. You cannot put a constriction on the heart. It heals in its own time, but you can get the mind set up to support the heart as it struggles to continue to beat.
Loss is linear. What I mean by that is that you cannot compare one person’s loss to another’s simply because no two people are alike. It is a negative investment of time and energy to look at the person next to you and say, “I hurt more than you,” or “My loss is greater.” This is a linear position with a vertical journey; meaning we start out in the same place, at loss. Our journey, whether we choose to stay right where we are and wither away, or we determine to move through it, becomes a vertical one that is between only us and what or who we believe in.
What do you believe in? Who do you believe in? For me, it is Yeshua, who rescues me even as I am screaming out my descent. For me, the dark fog of loss can only open up into a 60 foot drop to the floor of massive dark depression where I will remain until spring renewal pulls me up into mania. I will either have sorrow still in tow or not. I experience bipolar depression every year, but I must confess that just as the trees are being forced from their green stage and into the colors of fall, grief has me changing early from relative normalcy, I am simply not ready for the fall.