About a year after losing Alison and most established aspects of my life, I’d decided I’d had enough of feeling sad, of carrying around the burdens of trying to build a life. I felt I had no answers, knowing nothing but that I was going stir crazy. I didn’t want to commit suicide, but I also didn’t really want to try anymore. My solution. I emptied my fridge and cupboards figuring I’d simply starve myself and slowly wither away. Who cared that I’d gone to Costco just several days before? A few hours later my phone rang, it was friends inviting me out for Chinese food. You bet I was in for dinner! I was hungry.
So much for withering away. It was just a costly exercise after having to re-stock the kitchen.
I was in The Haze. It’s what I consider the first stage of grief. (I’m guessing you’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief. Well that’s not what I’m talking about. They’re great and you can google them). The Haze is a lot like it sounds. More often than not, you don’t even know you were in it until you’re out of it.
Much like the picture up top, things look clear in your immediate vicinity. But in reality you’re walking in thick mist. You can’t see too far behind or too far ahead. So without knowing it, you base your thoughts and actions on your limited range of sight, which is infused with pain, anguish, and often a strong dash of guilt for good measure. You make questionable choices, like throwing away food when you clearly love food entirely too much to give it up for more than a day.
For those who are on the outside looking in, you may not recognize your grieving person is in it. They may make some random choices that raise your eyebrows once in awhile, but you don’t think too much of it. They show up with one black shoe and one blue shoe on because they were so wrapped in their thoughts they didn’t notice. Or they’re ravenous when you go out for Chinese because they had no food at home ;).
How long would you think this stage typically lasts? Unfortunately, a lot longer than one would think or want. People tend to power through the first year of the birthdate, death date, and holidays preparing for them to be hard and painful. The dates are marked on the calendar and people around them show up in various ways.
Then the second year comes along. Not only has most everyone figured the season for grieving has passed, the griever often assumes things won’t be as hard the second time around. Instead, they are hit with the realization… this is the new normal. This is how every holiday and birthday will be, celebrating without the deceased person.
This leaves room for the Lightbulb Moment(s) to arrive. But before I delve into that, for the next few days I’ll share some practical tools and tips both for the grieving person and those supporting the grieving during The Haze.
Finally, before signing off for the day, here is my disclaimer. My degree isn’t in psychology or social work or anything near that. It’s in political science. All that I share comes from personal experience, working with a variety other bereaved parents around the nation, and observation. Take what works for you and leave what doesn’t. I’m not here to persuade you, but rather to offer anything that might help you in your journey.
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This is the fourth installment in a series of articles based on, “Good Grief – Embracing Life and Giving Good Support” a talk I gave on May 22, 2019. You can get caught up by starting with the introductory article here.