Tear for Michele

November 29, 2005

In my professional life as a software application architect I spend a lot of time looking at and understanding process. How does the client work today? How do they want to work tomorrow? What processes exist to help or hinder them? So it shouldn't be surprising that I look for processes in my personal life. Obviously the largest process I'm moving through currently is the so-called grief process.

Most of us have heard of the "stages of grief" and can probably name at least two of the stages. However, I suspect that very few know that the currently accepted stages of grief mutated from an article called "The 5 Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News" written by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, "On Death and Dying", Macmillan Publishing Company, 1969. She presented the 5 stages terminally ill patients go through upon learning of their terminal illness. Over the years since 1969 health care professionals, nurses, clergy, students, mental heath professionals, and readers of the original work somehow mutated the stages into the 5 Stages of Grief. (source: "Beware the Five Stages of Grief")

A better title would be The 5 Stages of Coping With Trauma. Better still is an entirely new mantra: TEAR.

T = To accept the reality of loss E = Experience the pain of loss A = Adjust to the new environment without the lost object R = Reinvest in the new reality

TEAR represents the actual grief work that happens once a person has moved through the 5 Stages of Coping with Trauma. To me this process makes sense. The original 5 stages, regardless of what you call them, represent the impact the trauma has on the individual immediately following the event. Once a person has moved sufficiently away from the trauma event then they start to (hopefully) process the grief through TEAR.

I experienced a brief period of denial. Having dealt with Michele's health issues for some time, and watching her have two near death experiences in her final days prepared me in some perverse way for her death. I am experiencing a longer period of anger. Not continuous anger, but minor eruptions surrounding events removed from her death; places where it feels safe to express anger. For example, I can be anger about slow traffic on the way home because that is a small thing. Trying to express all my anger about losing Michele is a very large thing and too overwhelming to attempt.

I only briefly experience bargaining, usually when I break down emotionally and express the pain I feel through tears. Depression, the fourth stage, is not as constant as you might suspect. I am certainly depressed, and I have periods of time where that depression is almost crushing. But I also have periods of time where I don't feel crushed, and where I almost feel normal. I don't think I've reached acceptance fully. Intellectually I have accepted what has happened and what is happening, but emotionally I am still reeling from Michele's death.

In terms of TEAR, I feel I have started to accept the reality of loss, and I am certainly experiencing the pain of that loss. I think that adjusting to my environment without Michele will take a long time to complete. And I can say with certainty that I am not ready to invest in the new reality. Buying into that new reality means letting go of the old one. It means, in a way, letting go of Michele. I know from my grief work about Amy that letting go doesn't mean losing the person, it merely means unclenching so that you can experience all of your memories and emotions about them and not just those that are figure in the moment.

Reading the Beware the Five Stages of Grief" article has given my intellect a process that makes sense, and a roadmap of sorts to gauge my movement through the aftermath of this trauma. Having a process I understand and agree with gives me a sense of control I didn't have before. Whether you espouse the 5 stages of grief or TEAR, the feeling of lost control underlies everything you do and, unchecked, that feeling will only exacerbate the anger, depression, fear, et cetera you are already feeling.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.