The Stages of Grief – is it Grief or is it more?

Hello again.

I found a great photo recently that expands upon the traditional 7 stages of grief.

More than 7 stages to this cycle of grief!
More than 7 stages to this cycle of grief!

Part of me was drawn to it as it’s far more nuanced and it explains the  complexity of grief so much better than the traditional model.

5 years after the passing of my mom, I find myself bouncing around between the Loneliness/Isolation, all the way up to the “new” items.  I don’t feel that I’ve reached “hope” yet.

I feel that the complexity of this image is more true to the complexity of grief in general.  All too often, we try to label or categorize things into hard “black and white” places when the whole topic is shadowed by numerous shades of grey.  No, not that popular book/movie.  I mean, it’s more muddy, less defined than the textbook 7 stages.

To compare, here are the traditional 7 stages of grief:

traditional 7 stages of grief - a simpler model
traditional 7 stages of grief – a simpler model

Now, when I say that grief is more complex than simple labels and categories, here’s what I mean.

Recently, I was having a tough few days.  I was super sensitive.  Partly from lack of sleep with a toddler, partly from overwhelm with work tasks, and I’ll be honest, partly from “lady stuff” around that time of month.  TMI?  I don’t care!  lol

Anyway, I was super sensitive, emotions triggered by the silliest little things.  My husband, who understands this most of the time, was in a more analytical mindset and came off harshly in a comment:

“Why are you so sensitive?  You’re a basket case!”  (I’m paraphrasing here.)

To be honest, I don’t even recall the specifics of the discussion, but I replied something to the effect:

“I’m overwhelmed, exhausted, “Aunt Flo,” and frankly, I just want mom here to complain to!”

And then it hit the both of us like a lightning bolt.  Whenever 2-3 things in life are generally getting me down, it just opens the door for grief to flare it’s ugly head.  It’s those moments when I’m bogged down with life that I want mom the most.  She and I would complain to each other all the day long, getting the negative out of our system.  We understood each other.

My husband, on the other hand is very positive minded and very into self-fulfillment, self-motivation and other self-help topics that empower a person to stop complaining and take action.  And in general, he hates it when I complain.  I get so busy and out of touch with friends’ lives that I have to explain too much about a “complaint situation” to just bring them up to speed, before actually just complaining, that it just seems like too much work.  Also, I don’t want to villainize my husband to friends by only giving them the negative and not the positive.  Suffice to say, I am lacking my outlet that I once relied on.

What I realized from this moment is that too often the overlap between grief and other mental illness labels just makes everything confusing.  Especially “so long” after the death has happened.

“Why are you depressed all the time?”  — I’m not depressed, I’m in a depression phase of grief, triggered by current situations!

In polite society there is an “accepted” period of time for grief and past the 1 year mark, we are expected to move on.  But it’s hard to tell emotions about the calendar date when they are expected to just vanish from existence.  And when outsiders either don’t know your situation well enough or haven’t experienced the loss themselves, they may not realize that it’s rarely a linear path, so clean and neat.

I can say from experience that I jump in and out of “being fine and normal” and “having grief.”  the grief, much like depression, comes and goes depending on the circumstances of life that may trigger it.  And when depression is one of the clinical labels within the grief cycle, then you start to understand the pattern and how confusing it is.

So, going back to the first image of a more complex and expanded cycle of grief, I feel that it more accurately shows what is actually happening within the mind of someone who has experienced loss.

Be gentle with those who are “cranky” or having a mental health day.  In general, it’s polite to address mental health anyway.  But you never know when the mental health issue is more nuanced and/or part of a larger grief cycle.

Everything is always more complex than it seems.

…….Until it’s not, but that’s probably the cranky side of me complaining again!