Archive for Grief

Revisiting and Recounting Grief’s 5 Stages

Grief is messy

Soon after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ “On Death and Dying” (1969) was published, her five stages of dying entered the popular consciousness. Those stages were also used to explain how people grieve.

We love lists. Comedian David Letterman did his Top Tens right up to his retirement show. If you follow sports, you love or hate rankings. What team is #1? Is your team in the Top 25? Yelp rates cardiac surgeons and pizza joints. The web has more lists than you can list: 10 steps for the perfect savings strategy, 9 ways to grow a new head of hair, 8 best cities for retirement . . .

And so, what are Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages? Yes, a quiz!

1 –

2 –

3 –

4 –

5 –

No Googling allowed! No stealing glances at your bookshelf. No asking a spouse, child, colleague, or passing stranger for help. And once you have what you think is the correct five, please put them in order. Don’t read the next paragraph until you’ve completed the tasks! Read More →

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The Last Gift

the gift

Cancer as . . . a gift?

“My cancer is a gift from God . . .” is what a patient said to their hospice nurse.

What is your first reaction to that comment? How about, You’ve got to be kidding! Or, Does that patient have a terminal and mental illness? Or you’d be speechless and roll your eyes . . . or shake your head and mutter several tsk-tsks . . . or clamp your jaw shut because your mother told you if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

Or would you nod your head in reluctant agreement?

Can you imagine that last reaction—nodding and agreeing—to the patient’s pronouncement? I can, though it helped to hear the nurse’s report of the patient’s complete sentence: “My cancer is a gift from God because it has brought my children closer.”

So far, in my aging baby boomer life, I’ve had several modest traumatic events that became change agents for my attitude toward self, others, and the world. One happened in the year I turned thirty. My left leg met a rocky outcropping during a tumble down a snowy mountain slope. Gravity and granite were against me, and multiple bones were broken. I ended up in a cast for months, dependent upon other people for most of that time. Before that literal and metaphoric break, a divorce from five years before had been festering in my soul. I often doubted and even loathed myself, careening between thinking today was bad but tomorrow could be worse. It wasn’t just the divorce; there were other negatives that burdened me. Nonetheless, I figured to “tough it out” on my own. But the break broke me. I became dependent. I saw people and the world (and me) with different, more forgiving eyes. Read More →

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Assumptions and Great Aunt Betty

Don't Assume

Great Aunt Betty had died. Though not her real name, Betty was the second most popular name for girls born in the United States in 1929. Just over ninety, Betty had lived the proverbial long, good life. Her thirty-something great nephew was listed in the hospice medical charts as the “primary caregiver” and “HCPOA” (health care power of attorney).

I called him a few weeks after his great aunt’s death to see how he was doing.

Fine, he said.

And then he told the truth. He felt lousy. Unsettled. He was also trying to ignore those feelings. He hadn’t cried yet (which bothered him), was tackling the estate business after her death, and was trying to balance his usual schedule of kids-and-work.

Aunt Betty’s death was a huge blow, but he didn’t have time to grieve.

This is what I learned* from the sparse notes in Betty’s chart and through my conversation with him: he was a busy guy. His wife was teaching elementary school while attending classes to get her master’s degree in administration. He taught at a community college and his more flexible schedule allowed him more time to care for their two kids.

What about Betty?

Was she merely a deceased great great aunt? Read More →

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