Stages of Life

April 1, 2013

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is well known for the theory on the stages of grief.  These stages of grief can be applied to any type of loss, perceived loss or even a significant change to one’s life.  The diagnosis of a chronic illness, one that has a cure or one that does not, will cause a person and all who are part of their life to go through these stages to some degree.  In some cases, friends or family who are unable to deal with these feelings will part ways with the person experiencing the loss.  It is important not only to know that YOU will experience these, but that sometimes the “loss” of friends or family in your life is not in your control and not your fault.  Sometimes it is something deep within that person, their inability to cope, their personal battles in life.  At times, I have found it very difficult to let go of the anger and frustration from losing people in my life due to this diagnosis, and forgetting to take into account that it is their failing to cope and not mine.  It is important to remember that people will come in and out of your life for different reasons, and that some of this is out of your control.  You cannot blame yourself! Friendship and relationships are 2 way streets; if you are putting forth the effort, it must be reciprocated by the other person for the relationship to continue in a healthy way.  You may find that people who have gone out of your life will once again be considered a friend once they have dealt with their own personal issues.

          It is also important for you to understand that the grieving process is not one that will happen in the same order for everyone.  Equally important, is understanding that people will often bounce back and forth from one stage to the next and back again.  I assure you this is normal and a part of this very important process.  You must deal with your feelings.  Feelings can not be pushed off and buried, and the same goes for those who are also a part of your life.  Others in your life may have feelings of guilt because they can not take away the pain.  They may feel guilt for feeling frustration with another specific situation.  They may just get frustrated with their lack of control over the diagnosis itself.

          Rose Kennedy said, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”  This quote appropriately describes the feelings associated with grieving process.   Despite what “loss” you are dealing with, this quote resonates.  One person may lose a loved one.  One person may lose a relationship that meant a lot to them.  Some people, like me, will “lose” the life they once led.  Due to a diagnosis that there is no “cure” for, I grieve for the loss of my previous life.  I long for the days of less pain, more activity and what I considered normal.  I deal with the sadness that the person I may marry one day may NEVER really KNOW the me that I was and still feel inside.  I also know that part of the grieving process is coming to terms with the fact that the “New” me is stronger than the old me.  I have gained insight that I would have never have had without this diagnosis.  There have been trade offs, but I am still complete.  I am not broken!  I am ME! 

          The steps for grieving:

1.             Denial

2.            Anger

3.            Fear

4.            Grief/Guilt

5.            Acceptance

          Denial can often be seen at the time of the initial diagnosis.  People will bounce from doctor to doctor seeking additional or differing opinions.  It can also be seen when people decide to stop treatment because they feel it is not really going to benefit them since “they don’t have this illness.”  Family members will also deal with this denial.  Allowing everyone to work through this process in their own way is important for their own healing and acceptance.

          Anger is NORMAL! It is also necessary to let it out.  There is a time and a place for every emotion, there are also appropriate and healthy ways to deal with it.  It is important to acknowledge the feelings of anger and allow yourself to get in your car and scream at the top of your lungs about how this is not fair or this SUCKS!  Let out the emotions rather than burying them.  Find an outlet for them.  Art and journaling are wonderful ways to work through all of these feelings. Allow yourself a time limit to yell and scream at the top of your lungs when you are alone every day.  The most important thing about anger is to realize that if you project these feelings outward towards others, people get hurt.  I said very hurtful things to my parents during my journey that were not meant to hurt them!  Unfortunately, the anger I felt inside came out in my words projected at the very people who were my everything!  My parents have been by my side this whole journey!  I am very thankful that they were understanding and we have talked about this, but I fear that there have still been things said when I was in pain that damaged relationships and I still may never know the repercussions.  It is also important for us to be understanding of the ones who are helping you through your journey, they may also have lapses in judgement when hurtful words slip and were not intended to hurt you.  When situations get heated, take a breather, walk away and come back to the discussion when all parties are calm and have had time to think about both what was said, and what is still left to discuss.

          Fear is another feeling that weaves itself in and out of the stages of grief.  Fear may sneak in even AFTER you feel like you have achieved acceptance.  Frequently, fear is the cause of the anger you feel.  Fear can be the very thing that holds you back from accepting your situation. Fear can be triggered by you not feeling in control.  Your loved ones may fear that you are not coping with the current situation in a healthy way.  Current treatments and the risks associated with them, as well as feeling there is a lack of available treatments can result in fear.  Your lack of control feeds into fear of the unknown.  Fear of the unknown is very common, even in the general population.  Communication with others of your fears and talking through those fears is very helpful in determining what you do and do not have control over.  Understanding what you can control is one way to help lessen fear.  You cannot control the curveball that life is going to throw at you, but you can control HOW you catch it…. HOW you respond to what life throws your way.

          Although guilt and grief are normal feelings, some people need to work through this stage in the grieving process more than others.  Some people have feelings of guilt that they are not able to contribute to the family as they once did.  Guilt may be due to missing a child’s event. Guilt may be a result of feeling like you burden those around you.  It is important to allow yourself to grieve for the life that you once had.  Give yourself a time limit and have your pity party.  Allow yourself to be sad about the change or you may begin to resent it.

          The final stage in grieving is acceptance.  This is the point when you can again feel the joy of life.  You will come to accept the new changes that have occurred to mold your life into its current state.  You see the benefits that have come from the “loss” you once perceived.  You have defined a new you.  Keep in mind, the other stages of grief may reoccur after you feel that you have accepted this “new” you.  Allow your feelings to mature as you work again towards the stage of acceptance.  Remember, life is a never ending cycle of ups and downs, change and renewal.  Roll with the punches and get back up to try it again!  This is what life is about, surviving.

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