Dear Papa, although it all faded away for you, the memory of you keeps creeping its way into every vacant moment in my chaotic mind. Nothing goes through my head the same anymore because it all relates to you. For years and years, I loved you and you loved me without hesitation. But now, my love has nowhere to go; and somehow, I can tell that your love is trying to find me too. That—the lost love—is what leaves me feeling the worst.
Meriam Webster defines grief as “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.” Any time there is a loss of any sort, an individual can experience grief, whether the loss is a loved one, a pet, or even a relationship. The Recovery Village tells us that approximately 2.5 million people in the United States die each year, and each leaves an average of five grieving people. This gives us about 12,500,000 people in the United States that are grieving the death of a loved one, annually. This goes to show us how prevalent grief is in our society. In my case, the only grief I had ever experienced was the loss of a friendship when I moved to Idaho from Washington; that is until my grandpa passed away on Wednesday, October 23, 2019.
On the night of October 22, I went to bed following the same routine I execute every night: take a shower, brush my hair, brush my teeth, lay in bed, listen to a podcast, fall asleep. At around 3 a.m., I woke up with an unusual sensation. My head was hot, my chest cold. My legs felt weak, although I was laying down. I shrugged it off and attempted to fall back asleep. It took me about an hour to shake off the unease and relax my mind enough to drift off. The next thing I know, my parents are standing at the foot of my bed with the expression on their faces that I had been dreading for weeks. My dad says, “Talia, Grandpa passed away last night at around 3 a.m.” He goes on to say, “the nurse said that when she found him, he had a smile left on his face that radiated an overwhelming sense of peace that he was feeling as he died.” I started to cry. It’s like God woke me up when my grandpa died as a way to tell me, “don’t worry, I got him now.” The time had come. My parents told me to “grieve how you need to,” or “everyone grieves differently.” They said, “it will come in waves, and that’s okay.” My mom told me that if I had to leave class to go cry in the bathroom, I could. If I needed to talk to someone, I should. If I just needed to sit in silence, go find a quiet place. But I didn’t understand what they were trying to tell me until the waves started to pull me under, whilst most of my family was floating in a boat on top.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross established the “five stages of grief.” In this theory, an individual goes through five stages while grieving. The stages were said to go as follows, described using the example of the death of a loved one.
Denial is a way that our mind copes with the unfathomable thought that we will never see the person we loved so much again. We are denying the situation. It’s a beautiful way the body allows us to survive by only letting us experience a little bit of reality. If we fully understood it all as soon as they took their last breath, the emotions would be too much for us to survive. We unconsciously pace ourselves to our feelings. People in this stage may feel numb or emotionless, for the lack of a better word. The things that might be thought or said during this stage are “this doesn’t feel real” or “I just don’t believe it.” After my grandpa died, it didn’t feel real for a couple of weeks. Once we had the burial service, it made everything a lot more real because I watched the box that held his cold, lifeless body be lowered into the ground. But, it still doesn’t seem real that my grandpa will never get to tease me about my ripped jeans again.
Anger is very necessary to feel during the time after a loved one passes. It can help relieve some of the emerging emotions that were not being felt during the denial stage. Anger can be shown towards friends, family, yourself, or even the loved one that passed away. These feelings might become troubling because you feel guilty for being mad at a specific person, but those feelings come, and you just have to know that it’s okay to feel that way. People might think or say, “why is this happening to me?” or “who did this to me?” Luke 11:35 states that “Jesus wept.” Even our Lord was filled with such emotion, he wept over the death of Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus. This shows us that its okay to cry and feel emotion because even the sinless man shed tears of grief.
For a couple of weeks before my Papa passed away, I planned out what I was going to wear to the funeral because I knew that when the time came, I wouldn’t want to have to worry about it. But, on the day of his memorial service, I pulled out my outfit, and it had shrunk in the wash. My plan was ruined. Simple things like clothing should not cause a breakdown in a 16-year-old girl. But I was so overwhelmed and angry with everything because it was the day that we were officially closing off my grandpa’s life, that I started sobbing, and couldn’t stop. My mom came to help me, but for some reason the pain that I was feeling was debilitating. It almost made us late to his burial. The pain and anger overwhelmed me.
Even our Lord was filled with such emotion, he wept over the death of Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus. This shows us that its okay to cry and feel emotion because even the sinless man shed tears of grief.
Bargaining is when grieving people think about the things they would do to go back in time and prevent their loved ones from dying. Their thoughts are taken over with things like “I will serve people for the rest of my life if it means my grandpa can come back,” or “Maybe if I am nice to their mom, I’ll realize this was all a dream and I can hug my mom again.” The individuals are usually very stuck in the past thinking about what could have happened. This can lead to them feeling very guilty. They begin to think about all the things they should have done before it was too late. Much of the person’s thoughts are “what if” statements. The “if onlys” make us feel like we are at fault, answering the question we asked while angry: “who did this to me.” People mostly think “I would do anything to stop feeling this pain that I feel.”
During my grandpa’s lifetime, he roofed and completely built too many houses to count. He took missions trips to South America and built churches and orphanages. He drove the Sunday School bus to pick up children from nearby neighborhoods. He sang in a traveling quartet. My grandpa changed so many people’s lives. So, when I was in this stage, I kept feeling like I needed to start being more selfless and helpful like my grandpa was. I started thinking about the things I would do to get one more hug from his frail little body. The event that started my grandpas spiral into death was a fall on April 7th (his birthday) that broke his hip, which led to a hip replacement that he never recovered from. I kept blaming myself for him falling. I felt like if only I had decided to go to lunch with him after church that day, he wouldn’t have fallen, and he would still be here today. Bargaining left me feeling guilty, and ultimately powerless.
Depression is a state of emptiness and fog that most people fall into after the loss of an important person in their life. The thoughts shift from the past to the present and future. Loneliness, apathy, and withdrawal from people occurs. The depression felt in this stage should not be taken as the mental illness, unless it lingers, or becomes extreme. During this stage, there might also be guilt about how your lost loved one might feel about your emotions. People in this stage think “why would I continue alone,” or “there’s nothing left for me on Earth anymore.” I feel like I keep dipping in and out between this stage and one of the three above, and then back here. My mind wanders into the fact that my grandpa will never see me sing at a choir concert again. We will never be able to go out to Idaho Pizza Company with him on Father’s Day. I think about how he doesn’t get to watch me graduate high school or walk down the aisle at my wedding. I feel like there isn’t a purpose to do those things anymore because I shouldn’t do them without him. Looking ahead to and being at events that he’s missing out on leaves me feeling empty.
Acceptance is when instead of dwelling on the time we aren’t getting to spend with our loved one, we begin to attempt to live our lives- without our loved one. Acceptance is commonly confused with the feeling of it “being okay,” or “forgotten” but that isn’t it at all. Such a big change in life will never just be “okay.” Instead, it’s accepting that this is our new reality and that we have to move on with our life, even if our loved one isn’t there to live it with us. You don’t need to “forget” about your loved one, you just have to accept the fact that they aren’t here on Earth anymore. Having good days can also lead to guilt because you feel like you should be sad for the sake of your loved one. But, having more good days than bad days is a sign that you are healing. Common things from people experiencing acceptance are “I feel at peace with what happened,” or “I can still have fun.”
For me, it’s taking a lot of work to get to this stage, and it feels like I will never get into this stage and stay there. I have days when I feel acceptance of what happened. These are the days when I remember that I will see my grandpa again in Heaven. I have to realize that my Papa is up in Heaven singing his heart out again and dancing on that hip that wouldn’t even keep him sitting in a wheelchair. My grandpa is 100% restored now, and when I come to terms with that reality, it makes it easier. Although I still cry when thinking about him dancing in Heaven, they’re happy tears. I’m healing.
However, the steps weren’t intended to become a stiff schedule that an individual must stick to while grieving a loss. Instead, they were steps that mostly everyone went through, in the most typical order. People may skip a step, repeat a step, or go through the stages in a different order. In the story of Luke 11, “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.” The Bible even tells us that some people grieve differently. Some people want to go out and greet people, while others want to stay at home. When my parents first told me my grandpa passed away, they told me about those five stages and explained to me what I just explained to you. The stages aren’t an itinerary.
Although I still cry when thinking about him dancing in Heaven, they’re happy tears. I’m healing.
There are so many things that remind me of my grandpa, like music. He was musical his whole life. Once I got to high school, I joined choir. One of the most tender memories I have is seeing my Papa walk into the auditorium at least 45 minutes early to every concert, while we were warming up. I would ask him, “Papa, you know it doesn’t start for another hour?” to which he would reply “Yep!” I didn’t realize it at the moment, but him doing that showed me how much he cared for me, supported me, and wanted me to succeed with confidence. Since he has passed away, choir concerts have been difficult to sing in, because I want to make him proud. It is so hard to come down off the stage to give everyone hugs and see the empty seat where he would have been sitting smiling wide at me as I walked toward him.
I can now enter the acceptance stage of grief and look back at the memories that I have of him, like the one mentioned above, with peace and hope that I will get to sing with my grandpa again. Although I might jump out of acceptance and into depression or anger, most of my days are filled with acceptance.
So, Papa, I’m going to save extra love for you so when we meet again in Heaven I can give you every little bit that you’ve missed. Please, sing loud for me until I get there.