Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The stages of grief: a method to gauge and measure grief. It is the belief of observation and theory that when a person is grieving (specifically the loss of a person in their life) then he or she is expected to move through this series of clearly defined stages and eventually come to a completion of acceptance. It is the belief of professionals that there is a right way and a wrong way to grieve. The right way is to process grief in an orderly pattern, the wrong way is to never actually heal.
If I were a professional psychologist, I would definitely say I am failing at grief. Being a writer, however, I feel fully comfortable saying I am winning at grief. That is because I have come up with my own stages of grief, and let me tell you, I like mine a whole lot more than the majority of psychological science’s stages of grief lies.
The stages of grief were not meant to tell you what to feel, how you should feel, or when exactly to feel it. The stages are simply five common experiences and not five requirements; they are meant to normalize and validate the emotions someone might go through in the chaos that is loss.
I believe I’ve discovered some stages that seem a bit more normal for society as a whole. And these, my friends, don’t come in any designated pattern. No, these jump around, bump into each, overlap, and span for days/weeks/months at a time. It’s a wonderful loss of inhibition and longing. So here are my eight stages of grief (put in chronological order for myself):
- Sleepvation: The highly anticipated stage of starving myself and never sleeping, Sleepvation is the best diet to date. With that pit in my stomach, who in their right mind could even think about holding down any food? Oh right, I’m not in my right mind because the one hour of sleep my body finally obtained after dire exhaustion is enough to recharge my thoughts on grief for another day of pity.
- Ben & Jerry: I’ve come to know and cherish this stage from popular rom-coms and chick flicks. This is when I faint from not eating and realize my only solace during heartbreak is found in the cardboard confines of Phish Food. Don’t worry, Ashley, at least I’m finally eating something!
- Bar Hopping: Usually induced by my best friends, the third stage of grief is one where things can go one of two ways: bad or worse. Dancing and drinking to forget my sorrow is one thing, as is accepting those free drinks from the cute guy at the bar. However, jumping on his boat to adventures unknown, or else falling into the fetal position and ruining my reputation as “cool” are both options I really shouldn’t accept.
- Raging Exercise: Ah, the “It’s time to make him jealous by becoming the epitome of hotness!” stage. It is probably a good idea to relieve some stress, especially after the last two stages I went through. However, becoming a gym hermit is a whole other issue. Remember, there’s a lot of people still left in my life and isolating myself is not healthy!
- Hopeless Bliss: I’m better off without him. It never would have worked out anyways. Better now than later. Freedom! I’ve reached the point where I realize it’s his loss and not mine. There’s nothing I need to do to change, and I’m comfortable enough to at least begin looking at moving on. And that’ll only piss him off more, right?
- Couple Despising: Right now, I’m not sure if I hate love, him, or the couple holding hands on the sidewalk. I think I’ll go with all three. This is also the stage where I contemplate deleting my Pinterest with all it’s cutesy Pins but then… nah…
- Movie Marathon(s): My legs are tired, I have a hangover, and all I really want to do is just sit and watch all eight movies of Harry Potter. Why shouldn’t I? Harry has always been there for me. And so have Legolas, Katniss, the Avengers, and Hugh Jackman. I have a ton of friends.
- Concession and Compromise: I understand that I no longer am in a relationship. I understand that I am single and free to do as I wish. I make promises to myself, I set goals for the future, all while understanding that at any moment someone new or an unforeseen circumstance may change the entire direction of my life. Again.
The truth is, you can’t force order on pain. Grief is the natural response of losing someone you love and having your life torn apart. It is when reality shifts and you’re hurled into an unknown place in life. Grief cares nothing about order or stages or how you should be feeling at a certain point.
To do grief “well” means you listen solely to your own reality. It means acknowledging the love you once felt, the pain of its loss, and the promise of a brighter future. There is no time frame on allowing the truth of these things to exist; each grief is unique just like every love is unique.
I have bounced back and forth between some of my own “stages”. Though the pain may hurt sometimes, there are also many highs. Grief is like a roller coaster and no one will ever experience it the same way twice. The concept of grief pushes people to want to believe there is a right method, or order, to grieve. But remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve; just do right by yourself. There are only a few steadfast truths to losing someone in your life, and they are these:
- Grief has no finish line or lifespan. You might move on a day, week, month, or decade later. Every loss is unique to the individual experiencing it.
- Pain and grief never fully extinguish. You grieve because you once loved, and upon seeing a face, hearing a song, or having a flashback to that love might bring back the hurt. Love might change, but it never ends. And this is not something to fear.
- The “stages of grief” will happen. You will feel anger, guilt, depression, confusion, joy, and a range of other things. You will get tired of grieving and you will turn away from it only to turn back. Grief can be absolutely crazy-making, but this does not mean you are crazy.
- There is no way to do grief wrong. Make your own stages, feel the pain and the peace, and ultimately remember that grief never has closure. Even acceptance is not final; you will rethink yourself with rapid aggression just to falter and sink back into questions. And so is the way of grief, love, and life.
I am by far more than five stages, and so are you.