I was out with co-workers and responded that I would be home soon. An hour later another text asking was I home yet? This is the unspoken code in my family that there is an emergency. So when I returned home I called my mother; she informed me that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a terminal diagnosis.
I went into care taker mode asking a myriad of questions, “When is your next appointment? What can I bring you? Are you sleeping, eating?” She reassured me that she was coping with the diagnosis but was not up to talking on the phone for the next few days, but would text. As hard as it was and as much as I wanted to hear her voice I honored her request.
Family members began to call and text. They were asking questions, providing support and reassurance.
And so began the stages of grief. The stages of grief are a fundamental principle from the work of Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. They encompass five stages: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining (trying to make “deals” with one’s self or our higher power, and typically are made with statements like “if” or “what if”), depression, and acceptance.
They are not necessarily a sequential series of stages that one experiences and moves through, rather they are a guide for a series of emotions during grief and loss. It is not necessary to experience the physical loss of a loved one to experience them. The stages of grief can be experienced from loss of status, a relationship or a job. Not everyone will experience all five stages, but it is a valuable model for those experiencing loss or grief.
Having a general awareness of these five stages can help “normalize” the grief experience, helping us cope with loss and identify the associated emotions and feelings we experience.
I explore my own emotions like panic, thinking about our upcoming shopping trip to buy her “chemotherapy clothing,” which will include learning how to wrap a scarf around her soon to be bald head. I wonder, will this be our last shopping trip as mother and daughter? I see holiday items out at the local craft store and wonder if she will be alive this Christmas. At 37 I thought I had 20 or more years left with her.
I try to enjoy the present moment and avoid entertaining these anxious, future ridden, “what if” thoughts. I will have plenty of time to worry about her loss and the time I wish I had. I work hard to focus on what I have now, the present.
To help cope with my various emotions I choose to run, practice yoga, walk my dog, write or engage in art projects. It is important to find healthy ways to cope and grieve. Just as our experience with grief and loss is personal, so are our coping strategies.
While I support my mother on her journey with this illness, I honor myself and my emotions. Grief and loss is an emotional experience we will all encounter. Gaining insight into the individualized yet universal process allows for peace of mind, body and spirit.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Wiki Commons