Sadness in Stages

I’m writing to you from a grieving place in my heart, as heaven found an angel in one of my friends earlier this week. She was one of those people who touched you the second you met her, with a warmth and kindness unparalleled. She left us with a spirit that will carry on forever, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to know her.

In the loss of a loved one or any other form of heartbreak, we all travel through the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance take their course, and look different for everyone who experiences them. I can’t explain how I feel pain without first describing how each of the stages take form in my life.

Denial. Situations that arise unexpectedly take us all off guard. When I am completely shocked, at first it seems like business as usual for me. Most the time upon hearing bad news, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the way I’m acting. Denial for me in that way is a sense of calm before the storm, because I cannot process at all what is happening. I may be able to identify the situation, but my feelings don’t align to it. I find myself at a complete loss for words, but my mind cannot stray from the subject of the matter. Slowly but surely, I begin to absorb reality.

Anger. My heart begins to get heavy. Heat rises in my body, but I cannot name it’s source. This isn’t a typical kind of anger, to me it feels more like discomfort. I want to find someone or something to blame, because if I can give away this grief, I can feel whole again. A lot of the time I have trouble attributing this stage to the actual situation, because it causes a rut that makes me feel as though nothing in life is going right. It’s like trying to get somewhere, and getting increasingly flustered because every way you turn leads the wrong direction. You get angrier and angrier, until you are fuming and you can’t even point out what caused you to get so worked up. Here is where I feel the most stuck.

Bargaining. This stage oddly is filled with false optimism. I have found myself becoming light-hearted here, because I think I have a solution. Somewhere in a confused part of myself, I’m convinced that there is hope for the situation to be reconciled. In times of heartbreak, I see an end to the disconnection through patiently waiting for the “timing to be right.” In times of loss, I am disillusioned into thinking that by doing good or praying hard enough, things can be reversed. Neither is true unfortunately, and I reluctantly begin to slide into the next stage.

Depression. We have all felt this in some shape or form. It makes getting out of bed feel like lifting 1000 pounds of dead weight. It curbs hunger, and breaks all motivation to accomplish anything. I find this stage the hardest to move forward from, simply because your heart doesn’t have energy to fight on. Loneliness fills the heart of someone suffering with depression, because they don’t feel as though anyone understands the way they feel. There is a chemical imbalance in the brain that skews an individual’s perception from their reality. But these moments, although never gone forever, can be overcome.

Acceptance. Acceptance is a funny thing to describe to someone going through a tough time… To me, it always felt like people were saying “you’ll get over it sooner or later.” Of course, that was just a product of the pain I was feeling. Using the word acceptance I believe is the best way we can describe the feeling of finding peace within a situation. Some people find this through their faith, or a general notion of hope from within. Regardless, it is able to be discovered when our hearts are ready. It neither erases or diminishes the past, but it’s the solid ground we find to move forward.

This process has no linear path. On the contrary, it couldn’t be further from it. We battle through these stages several times, and they begin to blend together as we work through our grief. What’s most important is that we don’t give up the fight and get stuck in a stage, because then we are creating our own tragedy. Every time we go through this cycle, it becomes a little easier to inhale. It also becomes a little bit easier to exhale. It may be the hardest thing, but it is so important to work through our emotions and allow ourselves to heal.

I wish I could hand someone a map to show there is peace to be found at the end of their struggle. The reality is, grieving the loss of a loved one, or the death of a vision when things don’t work out, looks different for everyone. But if I’ve learned anything in my short life, it’s that we have the power to overcome what’s put before us.

I don’t often reference my faith in what I post, but it has a huge amount of impact on who I am as a person, and influences my expression in many unseen ways. With this subject, I find it impossible to not cling to my belief, because in my world it is the only way to make sense of loss.

And truthfully, it doesn’t make sense at all. A person can have a long and fulfilled life, and yet when they are gone, loved ones feel deep grief and despair. It never feels like it’s the right time for someone to leave us. I believe this is because God never wanted us to experience death, or any separation from him for that matter. But because as imperfect humans we brought sin into the world, a barrier had to be created between us and a perfect God.

This truth is the only way I find peace in light of death. I also cling on to knowing that my loved ones have gone to a place far better than where I stand, and there’s comfort in knowing I will see them again someday.

As human beings, there is never a cap or breaking point on our ability to love. Every person we connect with opens our heart wider to accept and give even more. But because a part of ourself is shared with those we care about, we also face a growing ability to experience hurt and loss. It will never be easy, and there will never be words to make it all better. But I would rather experience the joy and sorrow of compassion a thousand times, than never feel it at all.

I praise my God, knowing someday we will all be home with him. Because of his sovereign love, we never truly have to say goodbye.


-In memory of Cami Barletta-

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