A Novice’s Guide To Grief
Sunlight poured in through tinted glass windows and cast the walls in a sheen of gold. The twelve-year-old sitting at a teakwood table twice her age yawned when a warm breeze snaked through the kitchen and into the dining room. Despite the sweltering heat, power cuts, and grumbling fans that barely stir the humid air, summer was her favourite time of the year.
“Cooking is an art,” Her grandmother drawled as she carefully dismounted the lid of an age-worn pot. “It has nothing to do with gender. Everyone should know how to cook and feed themselves.”
The heavy aroma of ghee filled the kitchen, leaving the chirpy middle-schooler’s mouth watering. She kicked her feet off the bamboo chair and ran to the pot. It seemed enormous, and she was convinced that within it was a bottomless chasm overflowing with carrot halwa.
Her grandfather walked into the kitchen just in time to swat her away from the heated metal. A familiar smell of summer washed over her⏤oud and clarified butter.
“You should learn these recipes from us before it’s too late.” He added to her grandmother’s suggestion. “How will you make this for yourself once we’re gone?”
“Don’t worry, it’ll never be too late. And you’re not going anywhere!”
Moonlight poured in through tinted glass windows and dusted the room with silver. The sixteen-year-old sitting at the teakwood table felt numb. And cold. So cold.
Her stomach growled for the carrot halwa of her childhood. She hadn’t bothered learning the recipe, believing it would never be too late.
It was now too late.
An ache clawed at her heart until she finally acknowledged it; the burning sensation she thought she’d cried away that fateful night two months ago.
It was back, and she wondered whether grief was ever a quitting companion.
Grief - A feeling of great sadness, especially when someone dies.
This definition from the dictionary seems succinct, yet the weight of these words don’t sink in until we experience and grieve a loss ourselves. An emotion of overwhelming sadness, despair, anger, betrayal. These are the words generally associated with grief.
They’re not wrong.
But grief is more than an emotion or a phase. It is a process. As painful and unbearable as it is, it’s the natural human response to losing someone or something that one had a bond with. And though emotions might be a substantial part of the process, grief also affects our physical, behavioural, cognitive, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions.
A five-stage model of grief was developed by a Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler Ross. She first introduced it in her 1969 book On Death And Dying.
Having a guide to grief is simple. Neat. But healing is messy and oh-so gory.
There is no prescription for dealing with loss. However, the model offers an insight into human tendency and prevents us from feeling alienated. Humanity is tied together by common threads⏤sometimes frayed and bare. Pain is a sensation shared by generations, defying time and space.
And here are the stages as initially observed by a pioneer in near-death studies;
After hearing news of a loss, our brain shields us from the impending emotional and psychological damage by using a weapon - manipulation. In this stage, we may go numb or feel overwhelmed by the world. Some outrightly deny their loss or have an out-of-body experience. We question our reality. Hope further cushions the fall by creating fantasies of someone calling you and accepting that a mistake has occurred and that a loss hasn’t befallen.
Our brain manipulates reality to carry us through the first wave of pain.
Once we acknowledge our new reality, pain morphs into frustration and anger. This stage is full of questions. Questioning why the loss happened to you instead of the billions of other people in the world, questioning what you have done to deserve this, and, perhaps, questioning life itself. We can also project our anger outwardly to family members, medical workers, or even inanimate objects.
When anger and frustration settle in, we’re re-tethered to reality.
Hope is at the forefront of bargaining. We may wish to travel back in time to perform actions differently to avert the loss or be actively willing to do something to negotiate it back. Guilt eats away at the psyche, and “what ifs” help regain some sense of control, even if it’s an illusion
Bargaining is the start of confronting your loss.
In this reference, depression isn’t a mental disorder but rather a common additive in the process of grieving. This stage is when we begin accepting that life will never be the same again. Sadness and despair are key emotions accompanied by vulnerability, fatigue, confusion, and seeking distractions.
Depression can continue for an undefined period as we confront our loss and inevitably accept it.
Acknowledging our loss, though we may deem it unfair, constitutes the final stage. Stepping into a life without the person or thing you lost and readjusting to a new reality will take time, but you will proceed with steps and bounds. Moving on was, for me, the hardest part of the process. Accepting that you’ll never see this person again, never hear their voice or ringing laughter, never talk to them or be able to touch them - this takes strength.
Acceptance is when we embrace reality and emerge stronger.
The Kübler-Ross model depicting the five stages with reference to time taken and energy exerted
Elisabeth Kübler Ross noted that these stages are not linear and regretted writing them in a manner prone to misinterpretation. Over time, researchers have added how it’s meant to reflect the way people cope with illness and dying instead of being reflections of how people grieve.
I dealt by distracting myself for the most of it and began the process in fits and starts. There is no definite order I can remember, no pattern I can say resembles the Kübler-Ross model. A thing I can assure you of is that the feelings, emotions, and thoughts mentioned are accurate.
All feelings and emotions are valid. No matter what you’ve lost and are grieving for, know that you’ll find strength. Give yourself time, and don’t be ashamed if your pain is fleeting or lasting.
Indeed, with hardship comes ease.