Grief is characterized much more by waves of feeling that lessen and reoccur, it’s less like stages and more like different states of feeling. – Meghan O’Rourke
Grief is one of life’s hardest lessons to learn. For me it has been that anyway. Before I was a teacher and school administrator, I began my career as a counselor. I worked in a junior high with many children who came to me with issues involving grief. During my schooling, I had of course learned about the stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I have always felt this framework was misleading. It implies that when one stage is overcome, you move on to the next. That is not how life really works.
We can all relate to grief over deaths of loved ones, loss of relationships and other things that happen in life. With illness, I have found grief is a very real thing. I was diagnosed at 24 and I am always happy that I was diagnosed that young. At 24 I still thought I was invincible. MS would not change my life. I wouldn’t let it affect me. So what did I do when I received my diagnosis? I moved to Asia of course. I had always wanted to travel so that is what I did. Denial to some point played a part in that. If I had been in my 30s or 40s I don’t think I would have taken that route. For me, I was lucky and was able to stay in denial for 8 years. Then came my first relapse. Waking up and not being able to walk will give you some anger. Then for me came bargaining. I would start taking it easier if things slowed down with my disease progression. I tried that, and it worked for a while. Until it didn’t. When I had to stop work permanently 5 years ago, I went through depression over the fact that my life wasn’t working out the way I had pictured. Things just weren’t fair. That was a hard stage to get through. The next stage was acceptance. OK. So this is where I am at now. I had to decide and figure out where to go from here. Eventually, I figure it out.
The purpose of me going through my story with you, is that although I passed through all of the stages, I am certainly not done with them. Grief is at its essence about loss to me. My circumstances change with my health. When I first had to purchase a cane, I had to grieve that process. I couldn’t walk without an assistive device. I bargained. Maybe I could get away with only using it if I had to walk over a certain distance? I was angry about the fact that I couldn’t do certain things anymore. I was depressed about how hard it was to move around. Every time something changes in terms of my capabilities, I have to grieve that loss.
Grief is hard but with illness it is unfortunately a package deal. To me, what is most important is that we don’t get stuck in certain phases. We feel them, process them, and then pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on. I have learned that I will never be done with any one stage. They keep coming back to remind you of how things change. I seem to spend less time stuck now. However, what they also do for me now is remind me of how resilient and strong I have become. It is important to look at how far you have come and what you have overcome.
Life is hard, but you’ve got this.