People don’t race through the original five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—like running a marathon. There’s no mile marker to put behind us as we pass by, and there is certainly no finish line.
Grief is more like a revolving door—we cycle through the stages multiple times. Every so often, we step off, and then a song, a word, a memory sends us spinning again.
This week, I’m spinning. I’m reeling.
I had alluded to a sixth stage of grief last week, but I didn’t want to get into it, as I thought my blog was already too long. I didn’t want to lose you.
Sadly, I did lose someone. My friend who had battled COVID-19 for over a month died last Thursday.
Rest in peace, Ron.
As for Ron’s family, peace will evade them for a long time, especially since family and friends can’t gather to comfort them. It’s a cruel twist to this deadly disease. My husband and I drove up on Sunday to see Ron’s wife—my girlfriend—and we stood in their—in her—garage, just out of reach of the pouring rain. She and her son stood near the back wall while we all chatted and fought back tears.
No hugs. No kisses. Just presence. It was a meaningful moment. That’s what David Kessler, the grief expert in the podcast would call it.
“Making meaning” is the sixth stage of grief.
(You can find it at about the 10:22 mark in the podcast.)
Kessler is careful to say this stage is not about finding meaning in death. He mentions the sudden death of his son three years ago, and says the unhelpful platitude people often express—“Everything happens for a reason”—is bullshit. (My word, not his.)
It’s about honoring the life that has ended.
Making meaning is about honoring the life of the person who passed.
Sometimes making meaning is big, like fund-raisers and movements and lobbying for legislation. More often, it is a phone call, a “thinking of you” text, a card, the food and necessities we drop off, the pictures, stories, and memories we share.
These days, meaning includes car caravans, waves, socially-distanced visits, even social media posts, and this blog.
Meaning is a cushion for death, the “light within the darkness,” says Kessler.
The grief expert says meaning follows the acceptance stage, but I imagine it’s in the revolving door, too. After we cycle around a few times (or a few hundred times), the door opens to acceptance and we see that it’s there, but before we can fully step in, we’re dragged back, our head spinning.
It’s too early for me, and especially Ron’s family, to embrace acceptance, but the community of love that buoys them is hard at work creating meaningful moments. I am so grateful to be part of that community.
Whatever your experience of this pandemic, my wish is that you find ways to make meaning. You may already be doing that, and now that you’ve identified it as such, I hope it cushions you in the uncertain days ahead.
I hope you find light in the darkness. I hope you become light in the darkness of others.
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