Category Archives: Grief

DAWA, Coronavirus, and Normal

 

Denial.

Anger.

Withdrawal.

Acceptance.

I first learned about these stages of grief when Grandma Anne died (over 30 years ago).  My cousin, who was a newly minted police officer at the time, described how he received training on this model in the police academy.

I remember thinking how simple it all sounded, and I was relieved to know I had a model to follow.  What I didn’t know at the time is that this simple model is anything but simple.

Models provide a basis for understanding a concept or an idea…and that’s helpful.  Models make the complex seem simple.  But models rarely capture the layers of detail or the often-gut-wrenching processes they describe.

Today, the DAWA model is a bit outdated.  Additional “stages” have been added over the years to the original model.  Stages like shock, bargaining, depression, and testing are layered into discussions of the grieving process nowadays.

How does all of this relate to the Coronavirus?

Thanks to Coronavirus, we are suddenly sharing a grief experience with every person on the planet, at the same time.  Every single one of us has lost something extremely important because of Coronavirus.

The normal that we knew, the normal that we understood, the normal that we took for granted…died over the last 30-60 days.  If you could ask all 6 billion-plus people on Earth when, exactly, normal died, their answers would vary by a few days or few weeks.  But nobody would deny that their normal is gone.

When we grieve or face a major crisis in our lives, we come together with others, we gather closer to the people we love, we comfort each other with hugs and shared laughter.  We cry together.  We cook together.  We share meals.  We share stories about what we’ve lost.  We might go to an inspirational concert and hold hands while we sway and sing along with tears streaming down our faces.

We love to be with people, even if we describe ourselves as introverts or “not a people person.”

Unfortunately, that part of normal has also died (at least for a while).

While it doesn’t look like it (because our beloved normal is gone), we are all grieving.  Every one of us.

Make no mistake about it.  Something we loved, something we treasure, and something we counted on has died.  We are grieving our loss, even as events unfold in front of us that may make things worse before they get better.

We probably don’t think we have time right now to grieve.  But, we’re each somewhere on the DAWA continuum of denial, anger, withdrawal, or acceptance.  In fact, we’re bouncing around on that continuum today.

We’ve lost our normal, and we’re being forced to live in a new normal.  This new normal will probably give way to yet another new normal a few months from now.  None of us know what any of this will look like.  That mystery is an unfortunate part of our new normal (as crazy as it may sound).

It’s normal to be in denial.  It’s normal to be angry.  It’s normal to withdraw or try to escape.  It’s also normal, and necessary, to find acceptance.

Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up.  It means that the energy we’ve been using to fight the new normal can be channeled toward making the best of what’s in front of us.

Sure, we all miss our beloved normal from the past.  We’d prefer to have our old normal back in our lives.  But we must find a way to accept, to allow ourselves to rest, and let go of our longing.

The good news is that we’ve each had normal die before.  We’ve had to adjust to new normals throughout our life and we’re generally pretty good at it:

  • Moving from one school to another and making new friends
  • Graduating high school or college
  • Starting our first “real” job
  • Leaving our first job
  • Starting our second job
  • Meeting the person of our dreams that we plan to spend the rest of our life with
  • Divorcing that person
  • Experiencing the death of a loved one
  • Becoming a parent (or a grandparent)
  • Starting your own business
  • Selling that business
  • Losing a house and everything we own in a fire
  • The knee injury that forced you to stop playing your favorite game
  • Having your house destroyed in a tornado

These are all examples of events in our lives that require us to let go of the old normal and embrace the new normal.  Sometimes the new normal is because of something amazingly good, and other times it’s caused by something amazingly bad.

I’m not sure I’ve reached the acceptance stage in my own grieving process.  I tell myself that I’m there, but I know it’s not always true.  As I work through the process and prepare myself for what lies ahead, I like to keep this list of ideas in mind:

  • Take things one day at a time
  • Prayer is your instant connection to someone who loves you completely
  • Celebrate your victories, no matter how small
  • Give yourself a break
  • Be grateful and enjoy what you have
  • Forgive yourself for not knowing exactly what to do (none of us know, which is true a lot more than we’d like to admit)
  • Only allow yourself to worry about the future for a few minutes each day and move on. I’d say to stop worrying completely since worrying is a non-productive use of energy, but I know it’s not possible to eliminate it completely.
  • Check-in once each day for the news on Coronavirus, and what the latest government directions are (social distancing, masks or no masks, etc.). By now, you know the symptoms, what you’re supposed to be doing to prevent the spread, and what you’re supposed to do if you or someone close to you become symptomatic.  The rest is probably not super useful, and you can catch-up on all of it during your once-a-day check in.
  • Be kind to others. Your kindness will go a long way and may lead to more kindness in your “downstream.”  Even a smile to a stranger letting them know we’re all in this together is helpful.  By the way, your eyes show your smile, even if your mask doesn’t.
  • Realize that you are grieving, and so is everyone else. We will each have good days and bad days in our grief journey.
  • Take time to gather with your friends and family members by phone, video conference, or even a nice email note.  These are your people.  Embrace them remotely.

We are living through future history.  The events happening around us and to us today will be discussed, debated, and written about for decades to come.  Our lives are forever changed, and the changes are continuing to unfold.

We can use our energy to reach back to the past with all that we have, searching for the normal that’s gone.

Or, we can channel our energy to reach toward the future, creating the best possible new normal for ourselves and our loved ones.

While I grieve for the past, I choose to reach for the future.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

Momma’s Song

I have a friend.  I haven’t seen him in at least 40 years.  Though all these years have passed, I have nothing but fond memories of our childhood together…usually in the desert, climbing on rocks, playing in the dirt, getting too close to the campfire.

His name is Jack now, but he’ll always be Jackie to me.  Just like I’m Bob now, but I’ll always be Bobby to him.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard Jackie’s wife had died.  It was sudden and unexpected.  There he was, facing this tragedy, trying to tell their daughter where her mom had gone.  I couldn’t imagine the heartbreak.

For some reason, each time I thought about Jackie and his daughter, I couldn’t help thinking about playing momma’s song and singing along.  I had no idea what any of it meant, but still, this refrain continued…singing along to momma’s song.

A couple weeks later, I was sitting in an airport (as I often do nowadays) waiting for a delayed flight to take me home.  I decided to pull out a yellow pad and see where this refrain about momma’s song would take me.

Here’s what was on that yellow pad when they finally called us for our flight:

Momma’s Song

Looking back…

We were so complete

Everything was sweet until that day

we heard the news.

Our silence grew

How could this be?

 

We never knew until that day

The doctor said it was too late

Her momma was gone, all too fast

There was nothing the doc could do

He shook my hand and held me close.

 

My only thought was of her song

That one I used to sing along

It was our Endless Summer

It had just begun

And now, alone, I faced her setting sun.

 

Oh Lord, please won’t you play her song!

I only want to sing along

You know the one I need, won’t you help me sing along!

 

And there she was, our sweet Lorraine

I could see through all her tears

All she felt was numbness and pain

Who would ever play her song?

Especially now that momma’s gone.

 

Oh Lord, please won’t you play her song!

She only wants to sing along

You know the one she needs—won’t you help her sing along!

 

We sat and cried

I held her close

I felt so weak, but it was our sweet Lorraine

Who gave me strength.

There we sat, I had no plan

What should we do now that momma’s gone?

And there it was, her words so sweet

The melody we knew complete

She was singing to us once again

The sun was rising, her new day was born

We could feel her in those words

We couldn’t help but sing along.

 

It’s been many years since that day

It’s our sweet Lorraine’s wedding day.

As we started to dance the Father’s dance, my daughter cried

Oh Daddy please won’t you sing her song

The one momma used to sing

I only want to sing along

You know the one, won’t you help me sing along!

 

And so we danced, and her momma sang

Her words so clear, she’s singing now and that’s all we can hear

Oh, momma, we can hear your song

We’ll always sing along!

Photo by Olivier Fahrni on Unsplash

The Questions We Ask When Someone Dies Are the Wrong Ones!

  • How old was he?
  • How did he die?
  • Did he suffer at the end?
  • Was his family with him?
  • Various versions of:  Who is he leaving behind?  How are they doing?

These are all worthwhile questions.  They show how much we care.

They also provide a small glimpse into our future, and the future of the people we love and care about.  We will each take our final breath someday.  It’s just a question of when and how.

These questions do more to quench the morbid curiosity we have about our own future than to learn about the life of the person who just died.

We used to receive a local monthly newspaper.  I was always fascinated by the stories in the obituary section.  Each person had a story.  An arc through time.  Milestones.  Achievements.  Lives they touched.  But, these were merely stories someone else had written to encapsulate an entire lifetime into a few paragraphs of highlights.

It’s impossible to capture someone’s life in a few paragraphs or even an entire book.

Our lives aren’t just a series of events and milestones.  They’re an almost infinite collection of moments.

Moments that often seem trivial when they happen, but are anything but trivial.  These moments would probably never make the “highlight reel.”  These are the moments that (with the benefit of hindsight) are turning points in our life, and the lives of the people we touch.

Our lives are also a feeling.  An energy.  An impression we leave behind.  It’s not tangible, and it can’t be seen or touched.  But, it touches everyone around us.  It’s something they can only describe with a far-away look in their eyes when we’re gone.

The questions we ask when someone dies miss what really matters.

I’d like to add some new ones:

  • What are the moments you shared with him that you remember most?
  • What stories did he tell you?
  • Which stories had the most impact on you?
  • How did he make you feel when you were around him?
  • How did he impact the direction your life is going?
  • What did you learn from him and the way he lived his life?
  • What type of energy did he bring to your life?
  • What impression did he make on you?
  • What comes to your mind whenever you think about him, now that he’s gone?

And, one final question to consider while we’re still here:

How will those that you love and care about answer these questions after you’re gone?

 

Taking Time to Grieve

When someone we love dies, we often hear about the grieving process.  We hear that we should take time to grieve.  It’s something we can’t skip.

Grieving is unavoidable, no matter how busy or tough we think we are.

I remember when my Grandma Anne died (over twenty years ago).  My cousin, Devin, told me about DAWA, the four stages of the grieving process that he’d learned as a policeman:

Denial—we deny that the person has died, or that this is really happening.  We may also deny that it’s impacting us emotionally, or deny that we even understand the mix of emotions that are welling-up inside of us.

Anger—we realize this is real.  We wonder what we could have done differently.  We wonder how something like this could have happened.  We may question the justice in the universe, or how God could allow this.  Bargaining phrases like, “if only…” come into our mind.

Withdrawal—sometimes the only way to cope with the reality of our loss, and the emotions we can’t control, is to withdraw.  This may be within ourselves, or to some place where we can be alone.  Denial is giving way to reality.  Anger is turning to sadness.  We look within ourselves for the strength to overcome our sadness.

Acceptance—we begin to get our head wrapped around what is happening.  We start to make peace with this new reality.  Acceptance doesn’t mean we’re “over it,” or that there isn’t an irreparable rip in the fabric of our soul.  It means we start to understand how to go forward with our life.

It’s easy to list these stages and assume grief is a simple process with a beginning, middle, and end.  It doesn’t work that way.  Some people never get through all the stages, or, they may cycle through one or more of the stages numerous times.  It’s a process without a true endpoint…only the hope of eventual acceptance.

The grieving process applies to more than our loved ones passing away.  It can apply to losing just about anything else we love (whether we realize it or not).

Maybe it’s a friend who we don’t get to see anymore, a hobby we can no longer participate in, moving into a new house (and leaving the old one behind), graduating from college and saying goodbye to our friends, losing that job we thought we’d have for many years to come.

It doesn’t matter if we’re the ones driving the change in our life, or if the change is thrust upon us without warning.  It doesn’t matter if our loss is a stepping stone that leads us to something even greater (which is often the case).

The loss is real.

And, so is the grieving process.