“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha.
We lost Dad in 2005 when he succumbed to lung cancer. I guess I should be grateful for how he died sitting in his favorite chair gazing over the beauty of the lake on that crisp January Northern Michigan morning. I have to admit I am grateful, but life as I knew it was never the same.
I use my own experience with losing my father to help me understand how my clients feel during times of loss and change. I hope my story can do the same for you and your clients.
Life Changing Events
It was not that Dad and I were particularly close. Don’t get me wrong; I loved Dad. It was that his passing made me have to deal with change and loss in a way I never had before.
Change in the sense that I had to finally grow up. Seems funny that a man in his 40s had to “grow up,” but as I look back, that is exactly what it was. I did not have Dad to run over ideas about the family business. All I had were memories of what he repeated to me seemingly every day. Decisions in my life were now my own, and I had to deal with the consequences.
About three weeks after Dad passed away our family tool and die business was in crisis: three of our four clients filed bankruptcy. Over the course of the next year my brother and I had to close the business that dad started over 40 years before. Laying off 25 families is still to this day one of the hardest thing I had to endure in my life.
Over the course of this time my marriage of 20 years was in a free fall and I found myself a single father of two boys, with no job and no clue what a career was anymore. Did I mention we lost our house? Now, I share this with you not for sympathy, but as a means of looking at life changing events and how they can accumulate and snowball.
Some would say, “Pick yourself off the ground, quit feeling sorry for yourself. Now is the time to show your mettle.”
Have you heard that before? Did it work?
Of course I was the only one that could make changes. I understood that – but? I felt like a deer in the headlights. I may have been able to handle the loss of Dad, but each succeeding events sucked more and more out of me. I became confused and depressed, bitter and, at times, angry. I was letting the grief and loss in my life dictate who I was.
How do we begin to move forward after personal events suck the life out of us? Accumulation of stress without any escape was like shaking a pop bottle and taking the cap off.
For me, I felt angry, insignificant, and many would say rightfully so, sorry for myself. I lost myself and I began to isolate and numb. To work through grief and loss of my father and other aspects of my life at the time, I had to work through the stages of grief.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.
The Five Stages of Grief:
- Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
- Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
- Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
- Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
- Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”
The Hospice Foundation of America suggest that instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows. Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, for instance the lows may be deeper and longer. The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss. Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief.
I was not only struggling over the loss of my father, but confronting other numerous changes in my life that each on their own could be paralyzing to the soul. I was riding a roller coaster and at the same time confronting the five stages of grief on my own.
Over the course of the next few years I began to pick up the pieces of my life and construct a new game plan. Of course, I was still dealing with new adventures and challenges (can you say, teenagers and relationships?).
- I first realized I had to effect what I had influence over; what I could control – I needed to learn to let go of the rest. If I didn’t let go I would have certainly drowned.
- Next, I began to create a new life by getting out and communicating with others. Going back to school was a Godsend. I met new, likeminded friends and through them learned how to express my frustrations in a positive manner.
- Lastly, my spirituality grew in a unique way to help me gather myself through the stages of grief and accept the possibility of being worthy to recreate a new life for myself.
I still miss my father dearly and at times ponder over the life that once was. I have put loss into perspective and have created a life. It may not have the monetary value I had at one time, but I am being granted more than money in helping others.
I wish I could speak to Dad and tell him his positive influence on my life, but all I can do is express what he taught me to the next generation that he loved so much—his eight grandsons.
I began to forgive myself and listen for the quiet subtle yearnings, saying that I have much to learn from those not here on the planet but still in my heart. I try and follow this mantra: May you find peace and happiness and realize that change is never ending, and that you will be willing to embrace the change no matter how difficult it may feel.
“Grief can awaken us to new values and new and deeper appreciations. Grief can cause us to reprioritize things in our lives, to recognize what’s really important and put it first. Grief can heighten our gratitude as we cease taking the gifts life bestows on us for granted. Grief can give us the wisdom of being with death. Grief can make death the companion on our left who guides us and gives us advice. None of this growth makes the loss good and worthwhile, but it is the good that comes out of the bad.” Roger Bertschausen
Photo courtesy of Abd allah Foteih on flickr