They say the five stages of grief are 1. Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression and 5. Acceptance. If only grief were that clear cut. For most people – it doesn’t work like that.
Denial and Bargaining sort of came as a joint stage for me. Despite knowing that my husband was dead the minute I really looked at him that morning, I still prayed to God the entire time the EMTs were working on Chris. I promised everything and anything I could think of to God that morning if he would just let them bring him back. Which I suppose was also denial, because deep down I knew he was already gone.
I’m not sure that I will ever get to acceptance, or what that would even look like.
I don’t even really like the categorization of “Depression”. I guess it makes sense. But depression gives me the impression of someone incapable of functioning, and while that may be true in the very beginning, I don’t think grief becomes acceptance because you’re up and about going to work and enjoying yourself every now and then.
I say my three stages of grief are sadness, anger, and inappropriate humor. And I switch between the three back and forth with no linear progression whatsoever. Sometimes each emotion lasts a few minutes, sometimes a few days.
Anger is so common after the loss of a loved one. I will say, I am very lucky that it does not show its ugly head for me as often as sadness and inappropriate humor. But it is still there in the background.
When you lose your spouse at a young age, you don’t just lose the person. You don’t just lose their presence in your today, but you lose the future you were planning and looking forward to. You feel cheated. And you just can’t help but think to yourself sometimes that this is just not fair. You don’t just mourn them, but you mourn the life you were supposed to have together.
I was angry with myself. I was angry that I didn’t make changes in my life to help Chris and I be healthier together as a couple. That I didn’t push the importance of eating healthier and going to the gym, and taking better care of ourselves before a heart attack took him in his sleep. I was mad at myself for not digging deeper into his complaints of heartburn the night before he died.
Eventually I had to forgive myself. I had to accept that there was nothing I could have done. The “What ifs?” plague most of us. If only I had gone to wake him up earlier that morning. But at the end of the day I had to tell myself he was a grown man, and if his heartburn was bad enough that it was borderline heart issues, he could have said something and gone to the hospital.
In the beginning I was furious with Chris. I was angry at the overarching fact that he died. He promised he would never leave me and he broke that promise. He had the nerve to sweep me off my feet and give me a taste of what true happiness was and then he left me here to face this world without him. How dare he? I was angry at the details. I was angry that he never went for a sleep study when I knew from his snoring that he stopped breathing in the night. I was angry that he didn’t take better care of himself. I was angry that he didn’t immediately refill his high blood pressure medication. When I moved out of our apartment, two weeks after he died, I remember finding golf balls and throwing them as hard as I could off the walls. I always said if he walked through the door tomorrow I’d hit him before I hugged him.
But then I had to forgive him too. Because I know if he did walk through that door the very first thing that would come out of his mouth is how sorry he is. How he never would have left me by choice. I had to literally imagine him apologizing to me in my head in order to let certain things go. I had to realize that yes, he was a bonehead for not taking more medical concerns seriously, but he was 34. You never think, even with high blood pressure and probably sleep apnea, that you are going to die in your sleep at 34. If we were 60 and he didn’t want to take it more seriously, I’d have kicked his ass. But he was 34.
That’s not to say I don’t still get frustrated and anger doesn’t spill out. I do. When I have to do something for myself that he should be here to do for me I think “God Damn It, Chris!”. Just today my dad was talking about how I have a bunch of stuff that had been taking up storage space in a room he is renovating and how I have to find a place for it, and out burst “Sorry I was supposed to have my own fucking house to put it in!!” And then I bawled for an hour and felt even worse that I made him upset. I have moments of anger still. But thankfully it is not something that lingers with me the way it could.
It is very common when something like this happens to be angry with God. Or if you’re not a religious person, with fate or karma or the universe or whatever the powers that move us be. But especially if you are a religious person, it is really tough to keep faith when you do bargain with God and you do pray and pray and somehow God still takes that person from you. And each person is absolutely entitled to that anger. Because it isn’t fair.
I was raised Catholic but I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person in the strict sense of it. I do believe in what I choose to call God. And I’m not saying that anger at God isn’t normal, or isn’t justified. All I can speak to is why I, personally, haven’t found myself angry with God, in the hopes that maybe someone else could relate.
I was used to hearing at funerals “God chose to call – insert dead person’s name here – home”. And when it is the funeral of a 95 year old person who had been suffering from ailment and was in pain and had lived a full life – that was comforting to some extent. But when bad things happen to good people, there’s little comfort in claiming it was God’s plan. Then you just want to ask why God feels the need to do horrible stuff to good people, and that sucks.
At Chris’ funeral the priest spoke to how everything at one point was attributed to God’s will because we didn’t have science or technology to explain why things happened otherwise. Progressive for a Catholic priest. I liked it. Earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes were God’s anger as opposed to the plates of the earth moving and weather patterns. Disease and illness was God’s plan instead of biology. (I am not here to have a philosophical and theological debate on Science vs. Religion or the wormhole you could go down with the line of thought that God ultimately created science and biology).
The priest said that God didn’t choose to take Chris. That biology will tell us what happened within Chris’ body to cause his death, and that God was just as sad as the rest of us but that God will welcome him home nonetheless. That resonated with me. And again – that’s just me and my beliefs. I’m not saying everyone should agree. If you’ve lost someone you love and you’re pissed at God – who am I to tell you not to be or that you don’t have that right? All I can speak to is what I believe.
The hardest justification I had when it came to God, the universe, fate, karma whatever it is you want to call it – is my belief that good things happen for a reason while simultaneously bad things can happen to good people for no reason at all. I don’t believe there was a reason, other than high blood pressure and genetics and biology that Chris had to die. It wasn’t to make me stronger or teach me a lesson or further my path or anyone else’s. He just died. This may not comfort others. Some people do feel there was a purpose to their loved one’s death, and in some ways I’m jealous of that. I don’t feel that he died for a purpose. Sometimes I think it would be easier to wrap my brain around if I did. But it makes me angry to think of him having to die for some bigger purpose to be fulfilled. I guess in my mind no purpose is worth him having to give his life.
But I do believe I was put into his life to make him happy before he died. I do believe he was put into my life to show me what true love and true happiness really is. And I believe God brought us together for a reason. Not to test me, not to challenge me, but to bless me with his presence and his love even if it was just for a short time.
But isn’t that hypocritical? To believe the good happens for a reason but not the bad? I grappled with that for a while. How some things seem so predestined and meant to be, while pain and hurt can seem so random.
I’ve put these thoughts out on my Facebook page in a prior post: There is a driving force behind us all and it is a force of good. And if we allow it to guide us, through faith or prayer or whatever it is you believe in… it will do its best. I think of that force as God but you don’t necessarily have to attach religion to it. But we also have free will. We make decisions for ourselves. Science and biology play their part. So bad things can still happen, despite the best intentions of God.
I believe that if we allow ourselves to be, we will always be guided to where we are supposed to be. It doesn’t mean that bad things are part of the plan or happen for a reason. But I was supposed to be with Chris. We were supposed to share our love before he left this planet. If anything, I thank God for the fact that I got to have the love I had with him at all, even if it wasn’t for as long as I wanted.
It is not fair that I had to lose him. But what would have been more unfair is if I never got the chance to love him at all. Even if that means there are times I still look up to the sky and say “Ugh, wtf Chris!”