There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Take careful note that they are not numbered. There is a very good reason for that. Grief, like so many other things in our life, does not ask permission to disrupt our normal routines. It comes in like a shadow, surrounds us, and the pulls the carpet out from under our feet. Or so it seems.
I'm not sure which stage I hit first. I might petition for a sixth stage to be entered: shock. This was possibly the first emotion. It's that incredible second that feels like hours between the question (Please tell me you are joking? Not him?!?) and the answer you are so dreading but somehow know to be true (Yes. It's true. No, I'm not joking. I know. I can't believe it either.). The shock was short lived that first day and I transitioned (quickly) into anger. The whole ride to school I yelled at God. And I mean I really yelled! I "explained" things to God, told Him the way I thought things should have gone, questioned why others succeeded where I failed/ lost where I won. How was any of it fair?
Tuesday night was full of tears and comforting. What stage is that, huh? There is no name for the full out mourning we had that night. People I didn't know clung to me as sobs wracked their body. Could they feel extra tremors (mine) through the hugs and soothing pats? Friends held me close as exhaustion and dehydration set it along with utter sadness as the tears came afresh and my body started to shake. There were moments of calm, when we all took a breath and were verbally comforted by a member of the pastoral staff. Then, another wave of grief hit one person. It was like a ripple effect, slowly touching every one until we were in another group hug, soothing backs, patting heads, wiping tears, comforting teenagers like they were children. And I'm not pointing fingers at an age group; it was hard to tell where child, teen or adult stopped, so widespread was our grief.
Wednesday was bargaining day. As I watched his best friend realize all over again that his life would never be the same, I wondered if I could have done something more. If I could have done anything. Not even "more," but did I do enough? Would I ever know? Maybe I did. But if I didn't? This whole week brought back my insecurities, my failings, my pain, my depression. It seemed like he was free of that suffering now, right? For about 10 seconds, I really believed it worked. But a youth leader, with tears streaming down her face, forced me to look at her and this is what she told me: "Don't EVER think that! Do you hear me? Look around you--does it look like the pain and suffering was avoided? " No. There was pain and suffering all around me. Could I have done more? Maybe. But I know I did what I was meant to do. I didn't realize it all then. But I think I do now.
I woke up Thursday morning with at least twenty people on my heart and mind. As I'm texting them all, telling them how much they are loved an appreciated, the anger set in. Well, technically it set in after I got to class late and found they had finished early and I had to wait two hours for work. The class bit I was okay with; the sitting for hours by myself, not so much. But anyway, I'm helping people through their grief, just being there for them, and I'm so angry I could spit. (Isn't that from Little House on the Prairie? I forget.) I won't type the words I thought or names I called him. They were not Christian. All I saw was the suffering. And I was angry at him for leaving us to deal with it. Later that night, I was babysitting and my darling girl started to cry. Usually the hip-shake-sway thing works well, but last week I tried singing to her and so I thought I'd give it another go. I opened my mouth and spoke two words and stopped. I couldn't sing. I burst out crying, upset for my loss, upset that I felt it so keenly that I lost my joy to sing. So sprinkle some depression on top of that anger, and that was the day.
Then it came. The end to a very long week. Celebration of Life, we called it. Celebrate we did. I was finally able to sing, which was a gift given at the right moment. But we also mourned. I say "we" like I was in every bit. I wasn't. Friday felt off, but it was almost like every other day. Why were my eyes puffy? Why did I feel it was a crime to laugh? And then, I would remember. And it would hurt. A member of the pastoral staff used this illustration: "think of [it] as being immersed in a 10,000 piece jig-saw puzzle. There is no box top picture to go by, and each piece of the puzzle has razor sharp edges. They’re (the youth group/young adults/ anyone involved) trying to piece the thing together and make sense of it while they are grieving,but every piece will punish and hurt them. " Yes, those razor sharp edges. I knew them well. But today, the day of "celebration," they were dulled. And it almost felt wrong. And when the service was over, what then? We turned around and had punch and cake. Told stories. Laughed. Was this allowed? Could it be allowed?
By Sunday, I had been to the church 5 days, 6 if you included Sunday, over the course of a week. My car could very well find it's way to the church by itself, and to my gas tank, this was not a happy thought. I attended the early service. I hardly ever do that. I sang. My voice was weak, my throat scratchy, but I sang. I saw through the service, listening to our pastor tell us that Jesus does care. He's in the boat with us, he knows the struggle and he cares. But all I heard was "the events of last week," "the tragic loss of a brother." And it felt wrong. It felt wrong to talk about the life that had been lost. It was almost as if talking about it in the past, somehow made it in the past, instead of so very near to the front of my mind. Almost like I should be happy it was "in the past." What a place to be, the past. Hidden behind moth-ball smelling quilts with holes in it. I wasn't ready to put it in the past. Not yet.
I walked through the next day in a fog. A haze. I could function, but my mind kept questioning: could I have done more? I know the answer. I really do. But sometimes I doubt myself. And until I can trust what I know God wants me to know, I don't think I will fully reach acceptance. It still feels like he might walk around the corner and make a face at me. Almost.
Anger, bargaining, depression, denial, acceptance. They don't all happen at once, and they don't happen in order. The repeat of one particular emotion (denial, and perhaps depression, in my case) throws you off. It's a nice guide to follow, to remind yourself your crazy emotional roller coaster does have validation. But what do you do when the immediacy wears off?
So now I hug people tighter, kiss them when I can, tell them how valuable they are and how much I really do love them. Then I look them in the eye and say, "Don't forget. But when you do, come back and tell me you forget. And I will tell you how much I love you until you can't forget again."
And I think, that is what Grace is. That is what Holy Week is all about. Jesus says, "I love you. But when you forget, look to the cross. It's my way of making sure you never forget how much I love you."