An interpretive dance of words about the experience of loss.
A big part of the process of therapy, at least in my experience and approach, is the use of metaphors. Part one of this series on unfortunate events was written to set the scene, to create a metaphor as background for the process of grief. And maybe here, I need to make the statement more general than simply just grief and bereavement. What this series is actually about is the experience of loss. Loss could be as simple as misplacing your cell phone to more complex matter such as loss of employment, loss of an ability or then the obvious loss, death. The experience of loss thus inspiring the story of part one where our characters get lost.
Shock & Denial
Typically, the first response to any loss would be shock and denial. As in the introduction to part one where everything is being planned for the road trip, we often tend to feel in control when life is planned out. Whenever something happens that isn’t part of the plan, we are surprised or rather our omnipotence is challenged. In order to maintain our sense of control and delusion of omnipotence, we have to deny the loss, because admitting to it is admitting to simply being human on this strange planet with little logic or rationale. Despite our best laid plans, more often than not, failing us, we continue to believe in the feeling of control and comfort that stems from it. But life happens. Life changes. We do not control life, the universe or everything.
Shock and denial are normal. It is all part of the process that will eventually lead up to acceptance (*I will get back to this later on in the dance*). Eventually, the loss (whatever it might be) can not be ignored anymore and some form of acknowledgement takes place which transitions us to the next phase of the process.
This analysis is not going the way you thought it would, is it?
You are paging back and forth (at least in my mind) to the previous post and you are certain the next heading was supposed to be anger and not depression. I do this deliberately to illustrate the nature of loss. That it, much like life, is unpredictable. It doesn’t follow the steps exactly. Or for the sake of continuity of the sub-title for this post, it is a dance. This dance has specific techniques and moves that need to be in place in order for it to be defined by its name. But these defining characteristics don’t have to follow a specific sequence. You are allowed to string the dance together in whichever way you see fit. You might even skip a few moves if you want to or repeat others.
Depression is not only a feeling of immense sadness. It is more subtle and often more brutal. It is not only emotional but also physical. It can be a change in appetite, sleep, weight and energy. It can also be a lack of interest or pleasure in the things you enjoy. Or maybe not even the things you enjoy, but the expected interactions of everyday life such as work or school. Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness accompany sadness, because hey, misery loves company.
Why not even include a little bit of anger? The film “Inside Out” (2015) include Anger and Sadness as characters that form part of Riley’s core emotions. We can almost label them as fundamentals in the emotive experience of life. And here, with the experience of loss they are also both present. I often wonder if anger and sadness are just two different expressions of the same feeling, depending on which one you are more comfortable with showing.
Anger can be directed towards something or someone else, the event of loss or towards self. It is a valid emotion. In sessions I have referred to emotions as representing different colours on the artists palette and that they are all equally valid. Not good or bad, right or wrong, but rather just different.
A different outcome. A different result. Maybe just different circumstances leading up to the loss. This is the function of bargaining. Exploring the options of what could have been. Removing yourself from the reality of loss and rather engaging with the hypothetical questions. The kind of questions that not even Google can provide answers for. An attempt to negotiate an alternative.
From reading the first part of this series, you might also notice how this is not necessarily an exclusive process but rather at times intertwined with the others. These “why” questions can already be present with the experience of shock and denial but also form a part of anger and depression. Maybe bargaining is again our attempt to regain control, to feed into the fallacy of omnipotence. Or at times it could be the intellectualisation of our guilt? Guilt for not doing more, or doing less, for choosing this and not that, for the things that have already happened.
Now then, our final destination (*see shock and denial, because now I am referring back to it*). Is acceptance a final destination in this process? Yes.
And, no. It is both. Acceptance is not a final destination but rather one of many in the process of loss. This dance of grief or something like it, can be danced to many a rhythm and song. Some songs repeat and others are played only once. When experiencing loss, it is possible to accept multiple aspects of the loss, multiple times. My understanding of the loss, the impact of the loss, the significance of the loss and/or the recollection of the loss may change. As these changes take place it is possible to experience some of, if not all, of these stages of loss all over again. Some stages might repeat, others might be skipped. Some will take longer than before and others will be non-events.
Shock and denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance being the characteristics that define the dance, can be put together in a multitude of sequences and still be identified as the process of grief, or something like it.