“Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.” Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
I recently stumbled across this quotation from Joan Didion’s magnificent journal of the year after her husband and daughter died unexpectedly, and it rang true with me. Grief is a good descriptor of how I am feeling some of these days. Not all of the time. That’s the good news.
I had always thought of grief as a reaction to a permanent loss, especially when someone close dies. I have read about the stages of grief and as I think about my short journey I can identify times in the last ten months when my emotions fell into each of the five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And on some days even now I find myself recycling back through stages I thought I had “completed”.
So it’s a “process”. I hate that phrase.
As a practitioner of process improvement disciplines, being a process implies that there are interventions that can change how things work. But the more I understand about my ALS the more I realize that the “process” for me is amenable to only minor alterations of speed – there are no major shifts of direction or intensity on the horizon. It will not be “reengineered”.
But I am not dead today.
I am not done living. I am not finished being in denial, being angry, being in bargaining, being in depression or being in acceptance. I am not done “being”.
I have learned to identify the “waves, paroxysms and sudden apprehensions”, to call them what they are, and to honestly acknowledge their presence – knowing that awareness and honesty are the real key to living fully “one day at a time.”
I am grateful to the family and friends who are with me on this journey. As I sit with them I understand that they are dealing with similar emotions or grief. I see in them the signs of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I am privileged to be able to share these powerful feelings with them, knowing we do not have to fix anything. We can share. We can laugh and cry together. We can appreciate the fullness of life and love everyday, knowing that in our common grief we are expressing our common humanity.