Five Stages


Today would have been my dad’s 69th birthday.

For whatever reason, it’s difficult for me to imagine him a step away from turning 70. Maybe it’s because he’s etched in my mind at around 60 (the last time he was really healthy), or maybe it’s because being 70 elevates him to grandfather age (something I can’t allow myself to think about most days) or maybe it’s just because I, his son, need to remember him as taller, stronger, more of a man than I view myself.

It’s denial, plain and simple.

And, like denial as made famous in the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief, it’s a defense mechanism, designed to protect myself from dealing with the hard truths of loss and of moving on. At some point over the last 3 years, I’ve wound my through each of the five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – with varying degrees of resoluteness, staying power and effectiveness. I’ve learned that these stages aren’t experienced in a linear fashion – being done with one doesn’t mean you immediately go on to the next, or even that you won’t come back to the one you thought you were done with. The stages are really more like suggestions – skippable (to one’s own immediate benefit AND long-term detriment), open to interpretation, and so vaguely general in actual appearance as to teeter sometimes on the edge of useless.

But knowing about them is valuable. Valuable in the sense that knowing all of the above about grief – its personal, varied and non-linear nature – helps us navigate our own emotions. Valuable in that helps us, once we’ve experienced at least some of the stages, be more charitable to others who are struggling. Valuable in that it helps us plow our way through not just the big, terrible events we associate with grief, but the smaller, less obvious losses that make up our lives. Losses like loss of a job, loss of a friendship, loss of ideals, loss of direction, loss of self.

I’ve dealt with losses of these kinds in the last six months. Well, I’ve experienced them – I don’t know if I dealt with them.

I’m on a mission to find and confront these losses again. But before I can do that, I have to work back through the Five Stages for my dad’s death. I have to relive, however painful, how I addressed each stage; I have to take myself to task for when I skipped over or slid through important, if painful, moments; and I have to let the memories of that painful time guide me through each. My dad was a proponent of relentless, unsparing self-examination, so in his honor and memory, I’ll be turning that unblinking gaze on myself.

Happy Birthday, Dad.






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