I know it’s 2021 and a brand-new year, but let’s be real for a moment, 2020 was one rough year! 2020 was a year full of many life lessons and challenges. In the wake of a pandemic, many lives have been lost to COVID-19. Some people lost loved ones to old age. Despite everyone around me being alive and well, I managed to lose my childhood pet cat, who I’ve taken care of and loved for eighteen years. As someone who is still going through the grieving process, here are some things I have learned about myself while coping.
Denial is the first stage of grief. It’s hard to believe that I won’t be able to physically see this being anymore, but you know the cliché saying of “they will always be in your heart and mind.” Sometimes that doesn’t feel like enough. For me, not being able to get cuddles from my pet has been tough. One thing I did was place a picture of where she would sit in my apartment. So when I turn to see if she is there, I see that picture. That has been helpful through the denial process because I know in my head that she isn’t here, but it’s hard to accept when you can still feel the presence of your loved ones so near and dear.
Anger is a secondary emotion. It often hides what you are really feeling. I’ve got to tell you, I have been angry. However, my anger is directed at myself. You go through the self-talk of, “How did I not see this?” or “Why didn’t I spend more time with my cat instead of spending time with my friends?” and in the stage of anger, it is easy to blame yourself. There is nothing you could have done to change the fact that your loved one is gone, how many times you play it over in your head to try and find out where you went wrong. Even cussing out the guy who cut you off on the road is not going to bring your loved one back, although it feels really good to raise your voice. Death is inevitable and you never know when your loved one is going to pass. Instead of getting angry and falling into the trap of what ifs mixed with self-blame, live in the moment with the loved ones who are left and share those memories of the ones who have passed on.
Bargaining can often be mixed up with acceptance. This stage is the toughest because you finally realize that they really are gone and there is no bringing them back. Although, you’d do everything in your power to get that one more minute with them. One more minute to say “I love you and I’m sorry for everything I have done.” Just trying to make up for what you lost even though you know you can’t. This stage is difficult, and it leads into the next stage.
When going through grief, depression is rough. It’s this wave of darkness that sneaks up on you out of nowhere. Right when you think you have reached the acceptance stage and have mostly moved on, a thought creeps in about that loved one and all of a sudden a sunny day becomes dark and cloudy with lots of rain. For those who already struggle with mental illness, this stage could be particularly dangerous. Some people, like myself, find it easier to push people away so you can sit in this darkness all alone and not affect anyone else or be a burden to those around you. This stage is extremely isolating but also necessary in the grieving process. It sucks to lose someone you love, and as much as you don’t want to choose happiness, there is no escaping the depression stage. Whenever it hits, it’s going to hit and it will hit hard.
When you eventually get to the point where you accept your loved one has passed on, this does not mean you forget them. It means that you know and acknowledge their physical presence is no longer around. Part of acceptance is knowing and feeling that they are with you no matter what. In this stage the song that you used to dance to together no longer makes you sad, it makes you smile. That one place you went to eat together feels warm and welcoming, and not sad and gloom. Things start to feel okay and normal again. Your normal that you get to now, it will never be the same normal as before, but it is simply a new normal. You have adjusted to life after your loved one has passed and with the support system around you everything starts to feel better.
Everyone’s experience with grieving is not identical, even if you are grieving over a pet or person. Your process is as unique as your fingerprint. Don’t let anyone rush your emotions. You might not even go through the five stages in this order, but you will get through it. Grief expert, David Kessler, has a sixth stage of grief and it is to find meaning. Whatever that meaning is to you in your grieving process is whatever brings you peace and understanding of what you went through. And most of all, it is going to be okay, you will get through this, and you are not alone.