According to the stages for recovering from grief and sorrow, the first step is denial (number one by itself according to most lists), shock, and/or isolation. Of course, different people encounter each phase in a different order than others might. But, whether the first stage occurs immediately or months later, those who suffer loss will suffer from denial, shock, and/or isolation sooner or later. Often, the different “stages” revisit a person more than once, even for many years after the loss.
I didn’t deny my husband’s death because he fought to live for years. In fact, his passing was a relief in many ways since he had suffered for over a decade, and the suffering increased month by month and day by day. However, when my baby died, I couldn’t believe the news. An unexpected death increases the likelihood of denial. The mind has trouble accepting the news. Every time I slept, I dreamed I held my baby girl because my mind couldn’t or wouldn’t accept her death.
Even an expected death results in shock for the people left behind. Loss of a loved one is traumatic, and the body reacts to trauma by armoring itself against the emotional and physical pain: shock. We may react at first with great “wailing and gnashing of teeth” and then withdraw inwardly behind the wall created by shock; or the shock may set in immediately. Whichever way we react, shock numbs us temporarily. During this stage, we are also vulnerable to illness and depression because we don’t care enough to eat or meet our other physical needs. For the first few weeks, I vacillated between shock and tearing pain.
Some “experts” include isolation with this phase of grief. We may isolate ourselves, a part of shock, or we discover after the first flurry of concern, others return to their lives and aren’t concerned as much about us. Isolation is an aspect I didn’t expect and have a problem accepting. If I were more physically able, I would go out, join groups, visit friends, do more. However, one journey to the store and I’m wiped out for days. Those who say, “If I can do anything, call me,” don’t always mean what they say. They really don’t expect us to call. Even friends who want to listen will tire of our calls. Friends and family will check on us at first, but soon their busy lives take their attention and time. For me, I no longer have Robert to listen to me, to talk to me. Even when he was hospitalized and I couldn’t visit, we talked several times a day. Now, I hope to receive a phone call or a short visit from friends or family, often waiting a week or more with none. I fight against isolation becoming a permanent part of my life. I need to find ways to become less isolated. I can't wait on others.
We never completely recover from grief and loss. We learn to live with it.
More about the process in Part three, coming Tuesday, May 19.