Grief is different for everyone who experiences it. I have read a lot on the subject, and have gone through grief counseling when my parents passed away, and highly recommend it for it can be very enlightening and productive. But this month, when my brother Alan died, it was very different. It felt like for the years that he was ill, parts of my mind and heart were closed off, distant, as if I was saving space there for him and to process those emotions just for him. It was strange, I felt like I could not take on much new in the way of non-work projects and other projects I wanted to finish quickly, as if to keep that space in my mind for him alone.
Some have described grief as coming in waves, too strong to resist, and the best way to cope was to ride the wave to get through it. For me it is very quiet. Being in nature helps me feel it. Listening to certain music that I listened to during the time of my parent’s death actually helped me again, when thinking about my brother.
Today, as I walked through the park and noticed the birds, the different trees and leaves, the cotton floating in the air around the cottonwood trees, I finally felt I could cry.
Many say that birds will appear in your sight line and come really close, as if to jolt you into realizing your loved one is right there in spirit. Alan loved birds so much. He could identify each one, every Minnesota pintail and blue winged teal, all the eagles and hawks. But today, I saw this large bird with a read head and black and white wings, it was a red headed or pileated woodpecker. I gasped at its size and bright red, black and white feathers. I laughed out loud, so happy to see it. It made me think of Alan, larger than life, hilariously funny, and noticeably present in the room.
Today, when I read about grief, I recall the stages:
- Denial: I realize I had isolated myself during the first stage.
- Anger: Then I was very angry that this had happened. Not just for myself and immediate siblings, and our loss, but for his family of 4 and amazing wife.
- Bargaining: Next the bargaining in my mind occurred, if only I had done more, what could I have done to have been a better more supportive sister. Talking with my brothers and sister about this, we all looked deeply inward to answer that question. It helped to talk with them about it.
- Depression: this phase can come and go. Sadness and exhaustion, not wanting to do things, not being yourself. Listening to music over and over to help me process my emotions.
- Acceptance: Many people say you are there when you can speak the deceased’s name without your voice cracking with emotion. I am not there yet. Though this stage can be peaceful, it can bring the need to withdraw and be inside our own thoughts, wherever that takes us.
I am also learning that the phases and come and go repeatedly until you are ready to move to the next stage. Or, maybe for some it will be sequential. Sometimes, in one day, three stages show up: anger, bargaining, depression all within the same hour.
Back to the large red headed woodpecker. It was not making noise when I noticed it but it does symbolize that it is time to really pay attention. Thanks Alan for helping me take notice.