Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross studied about death and dying. She concluded that we all travel through five stages when there is an impending death. We also expereince these same stages when we are waiting for a possible diagnosis, we wait before we are told whether we have gained access to our chosen university or college and whether we have been accepted for the great job for which we have applied.
When someone we love dies, we go through all the stages again, although we've been down this route, through the initial fear that our loved one may be ill, through the Alzheimer's diagnosis, which may take years for the doctors to categorize, through each step of our loved one losing connection with us and with their world.
The stages are expressed differently of course, each time we pass through them. When my father died, I was angry with him for dying young and depriving me and his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren of his presence. He made the choice to try an elective surgical procedure which was successful, except that his heart was not strong enough to endure the surgery. I denied how sick he had been and I expected him to cope with his illness for our sakes. When he died, I bargained for my own health, I began to exercise, to watch my weight, to stop using anything with aluminum, including underarm anti-perspirant. After a time, I accepted that I had to care for my mother and get on with my life without his support and help.
When my mother died of Alzheimer's disease, my anger turned toward the disease and my frustration that there is no cure and very little knowledge. I am still angry about that which is why I have written this blog for so many years and why I wrote my book Put That Knife Away. My bargain then was to try to enjoy life, to travel, to appreciate each day.
When my husband died one year ago, after losing his battle with Alzheimer's disease, I couldn't get in touch with angry feelings. I felt relief, at first, that his suffering was over. He had had so little quality of life for so long. I certainly was not in denial any longer and the bargaining I had thought about had worked--the medications we tried, the move to Arizona, his workshop and his backyard had kept my husband's life as active and full as we could provide. He had independence and dignity, plus kindness and caring surrounding him. I had my family around me.
Then I began to feel anger -at my loss. I began to miss the person he was before he became ill. I missed my lover, m y companion, my cook ( he loved working in the kitchen) and my travel partner. I tried to travel without him, denying the reality of my loss. I am strong. I can carry on, but it is certainly not the same.
In our tradition, after the year is over, it is time to leave the grief and mourning aside and get on with life. It is time for acceptance. The marker is on the gravesite, but I really don't feel my husband resides there. He is with me always, as I reminisce about our time together as well as when I experience new travels, when I see new stores opening where our old favorites have been, when I revisit places we have shared together. I experience short bouts of longing, of sadness which don't reach the level of depression any more. And I recognize how fortunate we both were to have had our time together, which no one can take from any of us who survive. On to a new year of promise, of learning, of new friends and old, enjoying our newly expanded family and perhaps I will begin a new book project.