Phases of grief, seasons of grief, stages of grief--they all have a slightly different feel. Yet generally refer to the idea that as we go through grief we experience different emotions along the way.
Whether or not you feel the traditional use of the term grief stages is accurate or valid, we are all aware that there are different phases of grief or seasons of grief. We all have vivid memories of the shock of those first few hours and days of grief. We remember days of numbness or days outright anger. There is a different feel to these seasons of grief.
Other articles I have written related to the more traditional ideas about grief stages are:
A reader of this site who lost her daughter some years ago recently wrote about “learning to live around her pain.” Perhaps there are phases of grief where we feel we are in the thick of sorrow and pain, while at other times we feel we are learning to live “around” the pain or alongside it. And sometime we are not even paying attention to it when angry emotions boil up in something completely unrelated. Here is my story from this summer:
Five Year Anniversary
Something I’ve noticed is that each year around the anniversary of John’s death, I have at least one big angry fit--often not at all related to the fact of John’s dying. This year, the fifth, I had just moved into a new house and was very excited about new directions in my life in general. I thought perhaps I had moved beyond these anniversary tantrums--that is until I had to deliver some paperwork to my son’s new school.
I thought it would be a quick stop, first thing on a lengthy “to do” list. Because I live on the outer edge of the county, it is a 20 minute drive. I arrived at 8:35 to find the building locked up with a sign saying office hours began at 8:00. No doorbell. No mail slot. So I headed next door to the school board building, thinking maybe they could put it in an inter-department mail. This building too was locked up (with lights on) and again no doorbell, no mail slot. The sign outside this building said summer office hours began at 7:30.
I know I could have just mailed the paperwork. But my office supply boxes were the last to get unpacked since my move. Stamps are one of the items that I know I have a ton of … somewhere.
I ran a few more errands and was ready to head back out of town. It was 9:20. I wondered, “Should I take the time to run back to the school or just go buy stamps?” Perhaps it was the principle of the thing--the sign outside the school said it should be open, so it should. So, I shouldn’t have to go buy more stamps. So, I went back to the school. And, yes, it was still locked up.
But this time I saw a woman standing 20 feet down the hall. I waved at her. She walked toward me. She got five feet from the door and yelled, “The floor has just been mopped. I can’t walk over it.” Now I knew she is cleaning staff, and it had become very apparent that for some reason the administrative office staff were not in today, but still, this was where I lost it. I mean, “Can’t she just step lightly over the floor, take the envelope and slip it under the receptionist’s door? Is that really so hard? And what is with this school system anyway? They ask us to return forms to the office and then aren’t there to receive them?”
I gave the woman a look that she didn’t deserve. I made a display of throwing my arms in the air and storming off. Even as I was doing it, a little voice in my brain told me, “This has nothing to do with the cleaning woman or even the school office being closed for unknown reasons. You are angry because your body remembers the trauma--that five years ago at this time your husband was killed by a drunk driver.”
I have spent five years working with my anger and grief, and mostly I have found healing and joy in living. But there are these little phases of grief that still seem to pop up and affect my daily life at unexpected moments.
After my dramatic departure from the school, I calmed down enough to give myself the little self-talk about the brain research that says anger can naturally flow through our bodies in 90 seconds if we let it. So I practiced “letting it go” for the 20 minute drive home.
At home I opened my mail to find one pink envelope--the first personal mail at the new address! I opened a card from the wife and pastor who officiated at John’s funeral. They were remembering the five-year anniversary of John’s death. It was a very nice note. But what really rocked my little world of rage was the fact that with the card, they included a book of 20 stamps.
Yes, stamps. I don’t suppose there’s ever been a list of suggested sympathy gifts that has included stamps. They likely sent them because they are a useful item for someone who has just moved. I don’t recall anyone ever mailing me stamps before. But here they were--today. The stamps had the word love on them. So I calmly put the school paperwork in an envelope and sent thoughts of love to the administrators and cleaning staff as I affixed the stamp.
Now I know if someone is in the earlier phases of grief, emotions associated with grief take much longer to work through. But this is my story from the five-year mark.
What’s your story?
Do you have a story of learning to work through different phases of grief? Where there seasons of grief that were particularly challenging for you? How did you work through anger and grief? You are welcome to share it in the form below.
Return from this Phases of Grief page to the Stages of Grief page.
Another article that might be of interest is the Grief and Anger article.
Share from your story of grief and your journey to healing.
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Another Fifth Anniversary Story
My grief journey must be one of the slowest in history! I'd like to start with a comment from the website, "each person’s experience is different given …