There was a time in my life that I pored over this idea of Grief. I studied and read most everything I could get my hands on. I still do.
It’s a little bizarre to some, but death and dying has sort of been my thing.
Not in a macabre way. No. Not like that. Not in a fascination kind of way, either.
I’ve just always been drawn toward it. Compelled.
There is this still, small knowing in me that understands it. There is something about death that is as beautiful as birth. More so, actually.
Yet, most fear it so desperately that it’s often ignored. I’ve always longed to know as much as I can about it.
So, you’d think that if I am well read and seemingly savvy about it all, that I’d get through my own grief a little easier.
There is a tiny element of truth in this idea.
I am a fan of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (On Death and Dying). Her grieving model has been challenged by some (aren’t all good and helpful things challenged in some way?) but I find comfort in her Five Stages of Grief. I am always mindful, though, that they are not set in stone. We all grieve so differently and these stages are not to be thought of as a determined and absolute recipe. Some stages will come and go quickly. It’s common to find them revisited and intermingled. There are stages where the dying or grieved will hover over and hang around for quite a while until they move on. It might seem like one is stuck in several stages at once. Some people can be stuck in a single stage for a lifetime.
There are predominantly five stages (some sources stress seven), four of them I have been living first hand. I won’t go into detail about them yet…maybe another post for another day.
I am watching myself go through the stages. I can see it as if I’m watching from the outside.
That Denial stage, well…it was a lovely place to be. Yes, I see some grimace. I would, too. Yet this was the place where I was wide awake.
Because denial is a gift. This stage is the initial protective guard that helped me through. It’s more like shock except for me, I was hyper aware of my surroundings. I was clear. Precise. Strong. I walked straight and tall and knew exactly what to do.
This stage swept in and saved me.
And even though there might be some things I do not remember…most things during that initial stage are still engraved in my heart and mind. Denial befriended me and kept me awake, alert, and aware.
The next two stages, Anger and Bargaining, are selfish twins that want to hang desperately onto my coattails. These stages are always hand in hand for me. They are persistent little brats that nag and nag at me. I can listen to them cry and fall into their trap…especially anger. But I can handle these. I can discipline them and make them behave. If only for a little while. Until they become hungry again and pull at me to be fed.
I am learning to manage them.
It is this next stage that I didn’t see coming. The one that has wrestled me down and has tried to suffocate me.
Sadness crept in like a black smoke slowly smoldering at my feet. Slowly working its way up into my broken heart. Secretly infusing the cracks and crevices left by the loss. Winding and winding its way in and out of my being until it has finally covered my eyes, blinding me with the soot of it. It has burned through my thoughts and polluted my mind.
Cloaked me in the darkness of it.
Some days I succumb to it. Allow it to have its way. Do its work. I choose not to allow it to be my enemy. Because it is, for me, the strongest of them all. I see it as The One who has come to refine me.
So I let it in.
Allow it to burn away all that it needs to burn.
Burn me down to ashes if it needs to.
I cannot help but to liken all of this to the stages of another mystery. This one so beautiful that it is commonly used to administer Hope. Rebirth. Growth. New Life.
The stages of a butterfly.
Oh, I know how cliché it can sound. We’ve all heard it before. We’ve all seen it compared and contrasted to so many things in life.
But hang in there with me.
Every spring around Easter time, I buy a butterfly kit. My youngest son and I have enjoyed watching the stages of a butterfly right in front of our eyes for years.
(And right now I am closing my eyes and shaking my head at the beauty of it. I can feel the reality of it as it raises goosebumps on my skin. How all things in my life seemingly come together like some amazing tapestry that’s being woven especially for me. One that I am not always aware of consciously…but I can see glimpses of in the supernatural. God is so gracious and clever like that. He knows I need a peek now and again. I cannot live without the confirmation.)
The tiny larvae are sent to us in a small, clear plastic cup with a white lid. A few days past their egg stage, they actually survive being tossed around in the mail. We anxiously take them out of the box to find about five tiny, squirming, and really ugly worm like larvae feeding off of a cup half full of sugary sustenance.
Over the next few days they feed and feed on the sugar and grow many times in size. Soon these worms, now deemed caterpillars, slowly crawl their way to the top of lid and attach themselves to it. Hang there seemingly lifeless. As if they are dead.
Hanging there, they form a hard shell. A chrysalis.
Actually, more like a shield. No, something stronger. Armor. Yes, armor. Because in the real world…out there on a tree limb…these tiny caterpillars have to survive whatever the elements throw at them. So in my mind, this cocoon is an incredibly safe place to be.
Silent. Dark. Isolated. Yet barricaded.
It is in this safe place that the caterpillar actually dies to itself. Puts that tiny, starving, ugly, and squirming self to sleep. Forever.
It’s time to grow up now.
It’s time to forget all the hunger…all the crawling around and the needing to be constantly fed. All of the life it knew lying around on its belly in a cup half empty is now gone. It can no longer depend on the sugary sweetness of things. It’s time to leave all of that behind.
It is time now for the caterpillar to sleep. Stop toiling. Time to rest for awhile.
A lot like my depression just now.
Inside the darkness, the caterpillar turns to liquidy cells. Breaks itself down to the most basic element of self. Inside that shell, that armor, there is nothing but mush…a bag of liquid.
But here is where the magic happens.
Here is where I am.
In this liquid mush of transformation.
Because here, while I die to my old self…all that I once knew…I am patiently waiting.
Allowing the darkness to surround me and allow myself to be remade.
Inside this cocoon of depression, I am developing new legs. Legs to help me stand on the new path ahead of me. New eyes. To see with greater empathy and compassion.
But something else will be added here.
Something beautiful and rare and priceless.
Because just like that butterfly to be…that beautiful metamorphosis will give me something I never had before.
I will emerge with something new.
So, I will wait.
I’ll wait and cry and lament and wail. I will turn into liquid if I must.
I will die.
I will allow this stage of Depression to do the work it has come here to do in me.
Until I am developed enough to step into that stage of Acceptance.
Because you see, I will not allow all of this to be for nothing. I will not allow my son’s death to go to dust just like that.
No, I plan to emerge reborn.
Like the caterpillar…expectantly and patiently like the new cells formed from being broken down into liquid by my pool of streaming tears…
I will emerge stronger and wiser and healthier…
with a brand new set of wings.