Wednesday, February 4, 2009

stages of grief

A few years ago I did a self-directed graduate course on Death and Dying. We studied Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' stages of grief in more detail than when I had read her stuff in undergrad. Between my own roller coaster of an illness and watching loved ones negotiate other people's illnesses I'm not quite sure who those stages were written for. I get that these are stages of grief experienced by someone going through loss (not necessarily death) but I think that they are also written for anyone else touched by someone else's loss or impending loss.

The bargaining stage has come up quite a bit lately. Other people's bargaining. I am tired from other well-meaning people asking me if I haven't considered a second opinion or if I can't put myself on the transplant list. At first I didn't want to be privy to other peoples' bargaining stage. It is tiring repeating the same old same old. I have come to realize that one can't negate that stage or need in someone that cares. One can however ask that it be kept to a minimum, or to get answers elsewhere if the source has no energy to answer.

This roller coaster is not of my doing, and it can be very frustrating for others who want answers, share their concerns etc. We all work with very different time lines. Sometimes I have the energy to deal with other people's bargaining stage, sometimes I don't. Just because answers don't come immediately doesn't mean I don't care.

For those that are not familiar with Kubler-Ross' work, her stages include:
denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
None of these happen in any particular order. Some are repeated as needed.

After one of my low-energy days (where I cannot be too far from my O2 machine) I walked around the house noticing that my plants needed re-potting. They've needed more soil and new pots for some time now. I just haven't had the time or desire to get my hands dirty and do the dirty work. That day I wondered what the point was. Houseplants don't have a use other than the Aloe for medical usage. I was looking at these things like an alien - wondering why we humans have this need to collect all sorts of "things". Emotions started bubbling inside of me. It wasn't depression, it was anger. I was angry that all of this 'stuff' seemed so futile, so pointless. What is the purpose of all this collecting, of filling a house, of needing "things" if this will be rendered useless in a matter of time. Another feeling washed over me: a sense of urgency to clean appeared. I felt I needed to clean up after myself, do something with my unfinished projects, clean up the mess a human makes during their visit on this planet. Again I found guilt lurking behind anger. I didn't want my wife to have to do all this when I'm gone. I didn't want her to have to go through half finished quilts, well-meaning projects or good intentions-beginnings. She'll have enough on her plate.

As I reviewed Kubler-Ross I noticed that another emotion I've been washed over with is missing: guilt. It should have it's own stage. I've written so much about it thus far but don't see it in much literature. Not many people have the luxury of knowing that they are parting. Scratch that, we all know. We all know that in a couple, one will go fist. Most of us choose not to prepare, not to write wills, not to write living wills and not to have their affairs in order. I may be feeling harsh guilt but I also know that my wife and those around me will not be left guessing and stumbling about what I want. For that I have relief.

Get your thoughts, ideas, rituals and instructions in order. Do it not for yourself but for the ones you love. Why would you impose guess-work on them? At 30 I knew I had another decade more or less. Time moves on whether or not you can keep up and most of that time now makes up yesterday. It is behind me, with very little ahead. Maybe if I say it enough I'll actually believe it one day.