Grief is defined as the natural process that occurs when you suffer loss. Many times, we think of grief only surrounding a death of a loved one but that is not the only loss we can experience. It could be the death of a child, losing a job, losing your health, a broken marriage, and it could even be experienced by watching someone you love dearly go through a loss. There are stages to grief that I have found to be pretty accurate. It doesn’t look the same on everyone, but the pattern is almost always there.
This month, I was asked to be director for the Midlands Spinal Cord Injury Support Group. As I have been thinking how to best lead this group, I know that understanding the grieving process is so important. It has helped me to understand myself through my own loss and journey with paralysis. Over the next few days, we are going to look at each stage and I will share how it affected me personally, and what I have witnessed in others, and I hope that this will help you.
The first stage of grief is almost always denial. As I think back to my early days or paralysis, it was obvious that I could not deny that I was paralyzed. I could not move or feel over half my body. My denial looked different. It felt to me sort of like a broken bone. Yes, it hurts and yes something is wrong, but…it will all get better over time. This was no big deal, and I could handle this. Maybe this stage is good for a bit to help us deal with the shock of such major losses, but we must be careful to not stay here.
The other way that I was in denial was that I did not really want to identify with “my kind.”Although I was in a wheelchair, I did not really want to hang out with others who were. I felt very odd and completely out of place. I have told the story before of wanting to bolt out of a room that was full of people in wheelchairs. I did not belong in this class of people!! I have a friend who felt the same right after she was diagnosed with cancer and sat in a waiting room full of people who had lost their hair. I have also seen in among the newly paralyzed who do NOT want a support group because they are not us. That is all okay. You have to give others time to feel at home in their new situation.
I believe the best way to support someone in this stage is just to be there for them. Give them as much normalcy as possible. Trying to convince them of anything different at this point will only hurt your relationship. This stage for me only lasted a few months and then I moved on. They will too. There are some who want to bog down in only one stage of grief and they may need more professional help at that time, but give them a little time. After being paralyzed for almost 6 years now, I assure you that I know the bone is not getting better. 🙂
Next, we will talk about the “anger” stage of grief and what it can look like in those we love.