I roll over, turning towards the sound that blares from below my bed. My alarm—the song “The Reckless and the Brave” by All Time Low—sounds throughout the tiny dorm room as I blindly fumble for my phone on the floor. I finally grab the slippery bugger and look at the screen. My mind stumbles as I realize that the sound wasn’t my alarm, but my ringtone for when I receive calls. This one is from my Dad; I slide up to answer and a sleepy “Hello?” escapes my chapped lips. “Amber,” he says on the other line, his deep voice very soft and soothing. Tears spring to my eyes because I know what is going on. Dad confirms my suspicions; my sickly 75-year-old grandmother is dying, and the nursing home she is living in is calling family in to say their final goodbyes.
Two hours later, after packing and informing teachers and some fellow students of the situation, my two best friends and I are on the road to my home. I live four hours away from my town and from my dying grandmother. The whole time I try to talk to God: just let her live long enough for me to say goodbye, I will never ask for anything again, I will live according to the Bible, etc. The trip is fairly joyful; we play silly music and talk about weird things. I pull off of the exit to the interstate and my phone goes off again. My father’s voice is strained and soft, as he says the words I don’t want to hear. “Amber. If you are driving, go to the side of the road.” I know what he is going to say, so I start yelling the word ‘no’. But I don’t want to hurt my father anymore than he already is; I pull over and he softly tells me my grandmother, his mother, just passed away. I am two hours from home, on the side of the interstate, my phone in my hand and tears streaming down my face. I scream profanity into the speaker, frustrated that I couldn’t be there or say goodbye. I scream until my sobs smother my voice and then I hang up on my grieving father. I sit in the driver’s side for another ten minutes, until my friend Heather makes me get out and into the passenger side so she can drive us the rest of the way. For another hour, I sit clutching my stuffed animal and sobbing. I think long and hard and try to convince my brain that it isn’t real. There is no way she is dead. She couldn’t be. I didn’t say goodbye. I would give everything just to say goodbye. I haven’t talked to her since Christmas; is this what I get for not calling her or seeing her before I left? If I live according to the Bible, will God bring her back just so I can talk to her one last time? The rest of the ride I am almost completely silent, and then we pulled up to the nursing home.
In Psychology class, most students are taught, however briefly, about the Kübler-Ross model – better known as the five stages of grief. They go like this, in order: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These phases of grief are illustrated in the way that I dealt with my grandmother’s death.
Denial is as it sounds; the person tries to shut out reality or the magnitude of the situation at hand. For me, this was when my father called me; when I yelled no, and didn’t want to hear what he had to say even though I knew it. I was going through denial.
Anger starts when one realizes that denial will not work, nor can it continue. These people are very difficult to care for, mostly because of misplaced feelings of rage and envy. They become mad at themselves, other people, or anything that they can blame. For me, this is when I started screaming profanity at my father; I was just so angry, I needed to vent, and that ended up being how I dealt with the anger stage of grief.
Bargaining is next, and possibly the most heartbreaking; it is when one feels hope that they can somehow undo or avoid the cause of grief at hand. The bargaining tends to be directed to a higher power of some sorts, and with longevity of life, the individual bargaining tries to bargain with a reformed lifestyle. Personally, my bargaining happened in two places: when I first started driving, and when I was finished with my anger stage. When I first started driving, I bargained for her life, and later, I bargained to say goodbye, mostly. I even bargained with reformation, like most people.
Depression, the fourth stage, is when the individual finally realizes the inevitable loss of life and death. To them, living becomes futile and useless; why live when you’re going to die eventually anyway? This individual may stay silent for long periods of time, become sullen and cry very often. My experience with this was when I just sat in the car, not talking and crying for at least an hour. The ending of this, mostly the crying, doesn’t mean the loss doesn’t hurt anymore. It just means I moved on to the last and final stage of grief: acceptance.
Acceptance is the stage where individuals come to terms with death and their mortality, or that of a loved one. This stage usually ends with peace of mind and a retrospective view for the individual. In my case, this actually came when I visited my grandmother. My family waited to say final goodbyes to her deceased body until I arrived. I went first, and seeing her there, saying goodbye and touching her hand one last time gave me the closure I needed. My grandmother had passed away, she wasn’t coming back; it wasn’t anybody’s fault and she was in a better place, away from the pain of her lives and many illnesses.
Grief and loss aren’t easy for anybody, but understanding the five stages and preparing for them are a good way to start.