That squiggly line


When I was little I remember staring up at my parents large bookcases in the lounge room – titles that to this day I havent read, covers that were well worn and a clear mix between both my mum and dad’s tastes. Soon after my grandmother died my mum came home with a book that took its place on the second shelf from the top, I can remember saying its title over and over in my head but I dont ever remember lifting it down to have a look. It was Kubler-Ross’ book on death and dying – it obviously stuck in my mind because when I started my Social Work degree it was one of the first books I borrowed.

For a really long time I thought that the idea of grief as an index where we could tick off each phase was the way that people could be helped through their loss – rather than with their loss.  It seemed like such a neat idea for such an all-consuming human experience…but clearly the first day I actually sat down and spoke with someone about their loss I quickly tucked any reference to death and dying back onto that second shelf and I let it collect dust.

Mary Grogan’s recent article in Mindfood nicely articulated the realisation I came to along time ago…’that the stage theory is not indicative of the majority of people’s experiences’….people all respond to death and loss in their own ways – the idea that we need to bang down the doors of a counsellor or a support service is actually not the way most people live with loss. In fact the literature says that most people do tend to manage well long term when a sudden loss occurs, it changes the shape and feel of who they are but they go on to live with that loss and they manage it. The idea that we have to tick each ‘stage’ in order to progress always perplexed me. As a competitive person I could almost imagine myself saying ‘well I did anger really well, now on to bargaining…’

A friend who lost someone a few years back explained to me that in the early days he lived with the loss being a big ‘chunk’ of his life – it consumed him, it was all he could think about but that over time, by giving himself space to remember his brother in different ways (other than only about those last few moments) his ‘chunk’ got less and his life started to take over again. He said that these days the chunk still exists – it gets bigger from time to time and then at other times it just sits in the background – its part of him, but not the whole of him.

So if you think about grief as that squiggly line where sometimes it takes you on a wild ride and then at other times its a little smoother then we wont all have to show each other that we’ve ‘processed’ it because loss is part of life and life is full of loss…