Characteristically, I, and the people with whom I surround myself, are well aware of my (overly) passionate and intense nature, and strong emotions towards most things. But grief is not something towards which I am so comfortably disposed, and this made me think about what people really mean when they talk about “stages of grief”.
The very essence of grief, I suppose, is that everybody deals with it very uniquely. The fleetingness of life, and the finiteness of death, register quite differently within all of its witnesses.
This does not stop psychologists, counsellors and agony aunts from attempting to categorise grief into “stages” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), for which there are multiple reasons – notably, in preparation for, rationalisation of, and acquaintance with grief. Understandably, this may help people to comprehend how they and those around them feel when faced with loss.
However, the danger is, when you are actually faced with having to grieve and do not progress through the so-called stages, you begin to question whether how you feel is “right”. Consequently, when I did not express any sort of denial, anger or depression upon receiving the news of a death in the family, I could not help but feel exceedingly alien. I did not cry until I saw somebody else cry. Nor did I cry of my own accord, in the days following, until prompted by the tears of others. I felt heartless and emotionally distant. Was I?
After careful consideration and analysis of everyone else grieving around me, I came to the realisation that people very rarely cope with grief in an identical way, nor do they make progress at the same pace or using the same means.
Rather, we weave together all our individual experiences with grief to rationalise our latest loss, and due to the highly personal nature of said experiences, nobody can categorise their grief into stages of a fixed model.
Grief really can only be what you make of it.