In her book, On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler Ross
introduced the five stages of grief that were first applied
to those suffering from terminal illness. Later, these were
applied to other forms of personal loss, such as the death of a loved
one, divorce, and various other incidences of loss and personal tragedy.
After having gone through the pain of losing my husband Chuck,I found that this model didn’t clearly define what the person who
was grieving was feeling internally, coupled with various physical
manifestations. I’ve identified five stages of the grief journey based on
my own personal involvement with the grieving experience.
2. The Tunnel
4. Pinhole of Light
The Five Stages of the Grief Experience
After Chuck died, I didn’t feel his presence. I didn’t feel anything
or hear anything. I felt completely and utterly alone. I wanted to have
a spiritual experience. I wanted to feel something, but I felt absolutely
nothing, and the silence was deafening. It was an odd feeling. I felt
like, well, maybe he would come back. Then there was the flurry and
hubbub of the funeral arrangements, people coming in preparation
for the repast, pastoral visits, and everything that accompanies funeral
After all the activities died down and everyone left, I felt abysmally
sad, afraid, nervous, and numb. I was nearly immobilized by the pain,and also felt so
alone.It was a very intense feeling—like
being in a vacuum. I felt as if no one else had experienced anything
as debilitating and painful as the emotions and feelings that I was
experiencing. The outside world seemed foggy and gray, and I becamedesensitized to everything around me.I’d lost any sense of joy and happiness.Actually those two emotions had been gone for a while, and now alone,I felt the absence of these feelings in an even bigger way.It was during this numb stage that my deep, abiding faith in God began to wane. I felt anger, and I couldn’t understand how God had allowed this to happen to me, to Chuck, to us. Chuck had been plucked from
my life in an incredibly cruel way. I asked God why he had done this to
me, to us. I felt that I had been cheated out of the life that I’d had with
my husband, our future together, growing older together, spending the
rest of our lives together.
It was during this numb stage that I began to feel that my life at
this point was done. Although I didn’t contemplate suicide, I do think
that if I had walked out into the street and been hit by a bus or had an
unforeseen accident, it would have been okay, and I could have been
with my husband again. Life for me up until my recent tragedy had
been better than most—exceptional really. So what was there left for
me to do; remain here and be lonely, missing my husband? My son was
a grown man, and he would miss me, but eventually he would be okay,
I surmised. My mother and siblings would all go on. But I wasn’t sure
I could endure the road ahead.
The pain was excruciating, and so to cushion that feeling, I existed
in a numb state. I could barely eat; I could barely breathe. I felt nothing
but heartache, and I felt very vulnerable and acutely sensitive. No one
knew the depths of my despair. No one knew how grief-stricken I was.
For many, many months, I existed like a zombie. People would say
things like, “Oh, you will be okay. You’re so strong; you’ll never be at
the height of despair.” But they didn’t know. No one knew that I was
nearly beyond that point, and I was in a quandary as to how I could
2. The Tunnel
There were many days when I felt like I was in some kind of an
altered state. It felt like I was in a tunnel with no light at the end. Oh,
how I yearned to be able to move forward and see at least a pinhole
of light, but that never seemed to occur. I felt suspended in time in a
dark, gloomy state, not able to move forward, left, or right. Sometimes
I felt off balance; sometimes I felt as though I might lose control. I felt
unanchored, no longer attached to the moorings—adrift in a tunnel
without a guide.
It was very scary, but after a while, I would find comfort in that
tunnel. It was dark in the tunnel; there was no light, no sound, no
emotion, just stillness. I was surrounded by my grief, sadness, and
depression. I was truly depressed, and that veil of sadness stayed with
me in this “tunnel” experience. If I went out on a beautiful sunny day,
the bright sun and the hustle and bustle of people going to and fro were
a jolt to my senses. I could not imagine that people were going back
and forth through their daily lives as usual, and my husband had just
disappeared from earth. I would soon come to know that that gloomy,
dark place was to become a comfort and a retreat where I could weep
and meditate and talk to God and Chuck.
Dark and gloomy, sad and lonely, my own little safe place. Life
was just too much. There was no light at the end of this tunnel—just
a long, dark passageway with no end in sight. This stage occurred
simultaneously with my feeling numb.
While experiencing the numb state as well as being in the tunnel, I
also felt as if I literally would fall off the planet. This, too, was a strange
feeling for I felt unsure and anxious—as if I had been let out of a boat
and was now floating in water without an anchor. It was an odd feeling
at best, scary at worst. On some days, I felt panicky; other days, I felt
alone and afraid; and at other times, I felt shaky, afraid to go out, and
safer at home.
I didn’t feel surefooted, and it was as though if I had one misstep, I
could fall apart. I didn’t feel secure; I felt as if the bottom had dropped
out from under me. Sometimes I thought I might break into teeny tiny
fragments, like glass, and become brittle and broken. These feelings
of being off balance actually occurred simultaneously with the tunnel
feeling. Sometimes I experienced each one by itself, and sometimes I
had two or three of these feelings together.
4. Pinhole of Light
My husband passed away in January 2009. As the year progressed,
I was still struggling with the first three stages of my grief. Eventually,
I was able to begin thinking about my entire life with Chuck and my
present life without him. I began to wonder how I would go about
creating a life for myself, by myself. I even went through a life review,
and I could actually see myself in the present, alone. But surprisingly,
one day in early fall of that year, I began to feel slightly hopeful. Soon,
I found that I was feeling as though perhaps there could really be a life
for me after Chuck’s death. This was when I began to see a pinhole of
light at the end of the tunnel. It was very tiny, but it was there.
By spring of the following year, I began to feel that I had changed. I
knew I had to take hold of the reins of my life and move forward. Now,
I could actually see myself doing more. Early on, the grief was so heavy
that thinking about doing anything seemed like an insurmountable
task. Sometimes I was stuck doing nothing. But now, it was 2010.
Chuck was still a daily presence on my mind and heart. I still wept
daily—cleansing tears, I called them—and all this helped me to grieve
as I moved toward re-creating my life.
I began to wonder if I could possibly ever love again. I felt it was possible,
but then there was this fear that if I were to marry again maybe the
person would die. I didn’t want to go through that again. The thought
that I could lose a spouse all over again was frightening, but to love
again was really a fleeting thought, which I suppressed as I moved
toward the light. Letting go of the grief seemed almost like a betrayal
to Chuck in some odd kind of way. I felt if I let go of the grief, I would
somehow lose the essence of my husband, or that I wouldn’t feel close
to him. I would later come to know, however, that I could still be close
to Chuck, without clinging to the grief and sorrow.
I was no longer feeling as if I was in the teeter-totter stage. I began
to see the colors of life: radiant yellow rays from the sun, clear blue
skies, fluffy white clouds, and the blue-white of snow, which caused
me to remember how Chuck and I loved to tramp around in fresh, new
snow. I no longer dreaded nights or being alone. I was able to enjoy my
days from beginning to end and found them filled with myriad rich activities.
I could actually think about how it felt to be retired (since I retired
during the time of my husband’s illness). I could begin to enjoy not
having to be anywhere at any particular time, as well as being able to
schedule my life as I pleased. I was revived after a long, long sleep. It
happened not suddenly, but unexpectedly over time. Then one day, I
found myself feeling renewed, alive, and reawakened.
To find out how you or someone you know can get through the grieving process read Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all other e-booksellers.Also available in New York’s Riverside Church’s gift shop.Go to http://www.braveinanewworld.com ,click on the tab and order your copy today.