I’m not sure if you’ve ever lost anyone close to you, but statistics would say there’s a strong chance you have.
Be it a family member, a close friend, a long-loved pet, or the loss from a miscarriage, grief hits us all in different ways and different times. Sometimes it consumes, drowning us in every moment of our waking days. Other times it comes and goes, like waves washing over us.
But no matter when grief has visited our lives, there’s always the time-honoured advice that grief comes in stages and we have to go through each one to heal. As a reminder, there are widely-accepted to be 5 Stages of Grief. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and they are considered the framework to recover from loss.
As true as this may be, it’s can also misleading as it sort of implies that grief is ‘linear’. 5 stages, 5 checkposts to get through. But grief isn’t as simple as moving methodically through stage 1 to stage 5, as if on a winding road with a final destination. The road isn’t even one with bumps and crossroads, or strewn with dark woods and barren landscapes. In fact, forget the road. Grief, in my opinion, is a spiral.
We’re not machines who can just systematically tick off stages of grief, and trying to convince ourselves we can only causes more frustration and upset. When we lose a baby to miscarriage, or lose someone close to us, we can often find ourselves months later just breaking down into tears or getting angry at the loss. I know I’ve found myself blind-sided by this – I’ve convinced myself that I’m on a healing path, but here I am demonstrating stages 4 and 2 of grief. Damnit.
We can start to feel like we’re ‘failing’ in grief (which is thank goodness not a ‘thing’ but which we inevitably beat ourselves up over anyway because we feel we’ve taken step ‘back’). We haven’t. The wind has just twisted our spiral, and all of a sudden we’ve found ourselves jumping from stage 5 to stage 2. It’s natural, it’s to be expected, it’s ‘allowed’ and it’s to be encouraged. Maybe a piece of music came on whilst you were cooking and it transported your emotions; maybe it was a fragrance or a passage from a book; maybe an actor on TV you hadn’t seen in ages. All of these and many more sensory triggers move our grief spiral on a daily basis. Go with the flow, but do so understanding that the trip is just temporary. It doesn’t negatively impact any progress you’ve made, just allows your body and your mind to express what it needs to at that moment in time
One way to picture it is have you ever seen one of those garden metal ornaments that hang outside and twirl a pretty pattern as the wind breezes through them? I’ve popped a photo of one here, just in case you haven’t. It’s not made of simple straight lines, but curves and twists. And now imagine it in motion – it twirls one way, and then, due to simple laws of physics, will turn the other. Now, realise that your grief is somewhere on that pattern. It might be bang in the middle, the outer edge, wherever, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s constantly moving, changing direction, altering pace, showing a different side to you.
Not sure if it will help you with your grief management, but I know this visual helps me. It makes me realise that I’m not ‘taking a step back’ if I allow myself a moment to cry or get angry or try to bargain with the universe. The spiral is organic and natural and completely reasonable, and these moments are all part and parcel of progressing through grief