Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was wrong

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Kubler-Ross, she is the one we credit with creating “The Stages of Loss” model of grieving. OK, so perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic with my heading for the sake of getting your attention. She WAS instrumental in helping society to begin talking about death. As a psychiatrist who interviewed people in the 1960s and 70s who were in the dying process, she concluded that there were five stages of loss. The Stages are so much a part of our vernacular that we hear about them in movies, the media and even from physicians and mental health professionals. The problem is that the existence of these stages has not been demonstrated over time. In addition, there were limitations to her methodology. We do have her to thank for beginning the conversation about death and dying as these are taboo topics even today. The stages do have some validity in that people who are in mourning experience many of them, but certainly not in a tight sequential order. Unfortunately, it’s a lot messier than that.

The grief work being done now focuses on tasks, not stages. One of the accepted models is J. William Worden’s four tasks. Task !: To Accept the Reality of the Loss, Task 2: To Process the Pain of Grief, Task 3: To Adjust to the World Without the Deceased, Task 4: To Find an Enduring Connection With the Deceased in the Midst of Embarking on a New Life.

I’m on a mission to dispel the myths of The Stages and educate people who are grieving about what is normal grief. Anyone who has experienced significant loss knows that mourning is not so neat and tidy as we are led to believe.

It's all about me, right?

Lately I find myself becoming increasingly annoyed, frustrated, angry and saddened about what I perceive as the lack of consideration and self-absorption I see in our society. We’re so “busy” that we can’t seem to think about other people. I realize I am generalizing, of course, but things do seem to be different than they were 25 or 30 years ago. And not in a good way. Or maybe I’m just getting old. I read a book last year called “Slow Is Beautiful” by Cecile Andrews. An inspirational read for sure. Isn’t there more to life than being “busy” and striving? Being “busy” has almost become something that has status. When was the last time you asked someone how they were doing…..and then actually took the time to listen to the answer?

Living with uncertainty

As I write this, the United States is in the 16th day of a government shutdown. While I am not an expert in government and politics (although I’m a lot savvier than I was two years ago), I do know that this is creating anxiety and uncertainty, as are many events happening in our country and society. So how do we deal with it all? We have to remind ourselves that life is a “marathon not a sprint”. My mother used to say “This, too, shall pass.” She was not an educated woman who only had a high school diplomato , but she was wise and strong as she had lived a difficult life.

Perhaps you are familiar with the motto that I believe was started by the folks at AA. I have this is on my bulletin board and look at it daily. Mine is an expanded version: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Grant me the patience for the changes that take time, an appreciation for all that I have, tolerance for those with different struggles, and the strength to get up and try again one day at a time. Grant me the serenity to accept that the persons I cannot change, the courage to change the person I can and the wisdom to know that person is me.”

There is a sticker on my guitar case that says: “The time to do the right thing is now.”

So in the midst of so much uncertainty and stress, we need to do what we can do in our own lives and always do the right thing……now. And just keep breathing knowing that this, too, shall pass. Everything in life is impermanent.

Thinking about life

Thoughts.jpg

I have had this saying on my refrigerator for many years. It is is yellow, dry, and withered. Sometimes I forget it’s there. For some reason I remembered it today as I’m pondering my own aging and choices in life. I think every now and then we need to be reminded that we don’t have forever. We need to ask ourselves what’s important and what isn’t. How do we want to live? Where do we put our time and energy? I am asking myself these questions as of late. I encourage you to do the same.

The Holidays

It’s that time of year again! We are bombarded with advertisements, photos of smiling people and happy family gatherings, Christmas music and movies, invitations to parties, etc. For some people, like my partner, this is an exciting time, something he looks forward to all year long. For others, it is a time of pain and dread. I am somewhere in between.

Not everyone has family they love and with whom they want to spend time. Some people do not even have many friends. There are people who are mourning losses of people, pets or homes. Or people who don’t have happy memories of childhood and the holidays.

There have been Christmases that I spent literally alone. Sometimes that was a choice, other times not. While I am fortunate now to have a wonderful life partner and loving and supportive friends, I can’t say that I love this time of year. It makes me sad for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t help that I am Highly Sensitive, had a painful childhood, and despise the cold and dark.

I can participate in the festivities, but am honestly glad when the whole thing is over. It’s OK if you feel the same way. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not alone. Try not to get swept up in all of the marketing and fantasy. Participate when you want to and decline when you don’t. Or perhaps volunteer in some way to help others who feel alone and/or are mourning. Or don’t do that either. No guilt, no pressure.

Feeling grateful

I am also feeling grateful today for my wonderful partner, friends, my highly sensitive therapist colleagues, and music community. As evidenced by all of the mass shootings in recent times, we never know when death will come to us or the people we love. It’s important to love and appreciate them now.

Heavy Heart

My heart is heavy this week as I grapple with all of the shootings, loss, deaths, fires, hatred and racism. As an HSP, I feel sad and overwhelmed because we highly sensitive people just feel things deeper. In addition, it triggers my own loss. In addition to the sadness, I also feel angry. I believe that’s OK because anger can motivate us to take action and try to make change. As a female child, I was not taught that it was OK for me to feel anger or even sadness. It wasn’t safe to express myself.

I didn’t know about my HSP trait until I was 47 years old. Which means I certainly didn’t understand the need for self-care. As HSP’s coping with loss, sadness, anger and feelings of overwhelm, it is crucial to honor our need for self-care; to take time away from the news, to rest, to get out in nature, to journal or whatever other activity we need to do. And then to begin to explore one area where we think we can take action and make a difference. I am still in the process of figuring out what that means to me. I invite you to do the same.