Grief, the Uninvited Guest

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross authored the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying. Someone gave a copy to my mother in 1973, when she was battling stage IV cancer at the age of 45. I have no idea where the book came from, only that it showed up one day. Was it a member of the clergy who gave the book to her, perhaps hoping to help her face her mortality? Maybe a friend or neighbor gave her the book, not knowing any words of comfort to help my mom deal with the vast emotions she must have had knowing she was leaving behind a husband and eight children and a half-lived life.

I never liked that book. The title alone scared me like nothing else. I was twelve when my mom got sick, and the thought of her dying was not anything I wanted to dwell on. To me, that book represents the cruelty of cancer because that’s what I was dealing with when the book came into my existence. In truth, I’ve never read the book. Although I have researched and experienced first-hand the theories that Kubler-Ross introduced on the five stages of dealing with grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And for some reason still unknown to me all these years later, I took that book when my mother died and hid it in my bedroom. I didn’t want anyone to have it. When I went away to college and our family home was sold, I packed that book up with the rest of my belongings. When I married and moved into a house and started a family, that book came with me. And many years later, when I was divorced and remarried and moved into a new home, that book followed. It is somewhere in the house where I live, sitting on a bookshelf or packed up in a box in the storage room. I have no idea where it is. I could probably locate it if my life depended on it, but it would take me a while. Funny thing is, I don’t want the book. But I can’t bring myself to throw it or give it away. Someday in the future when I move again or if someone is going through my belongings, the book will show up once again. Maybe I should ask a specific friend who is a therapist why I cannot bring myself to get rid of it. Maybe I don’t want to know.

For not ever having read that book, I know everything about it. Grief is a repeating process. And it strikes whenever you have a sense of loss in your life. You don’t have to be dying to feel grief. Children can experience grief when their parents get divorced. Teenagers go through it when they break up with their first crush. Adults go through grief during a job loss or financial hardship or divorce. Even those dealing with alcohol or other drug addiction experience loss and grief. There are many different ways we feel loss, and unfortunately for some of us, we experience loss many times in our lives. No matter how many times we process our emotions through the loss, we still have to deal with the grief. If we don’t, it festers under the surface and comes out in myriad unhealthy ways. It isn’t like the chicken pox in that it comes once in your life and you’re done with it. No, it’s a cruel and twisted thing that can happen many times, striking when you least expect it and often in a time of great stress.

And so it happens that Grief showed up this week while I was on vacation from work. In hindsight, I’m not surprised it showed up. I’ve been shoving down my emotions about my current job for months. This week off was a break from all that, allowing feelings of loss to sneak to the surface. An uninvited guest, I ignored Grief at first. Then I was pissed and tried to show it the door. Please go away, I begged it. But it wouldn’t go. And now I’m in a funk. It’s all because I so desperately want to find a new job and no matter how hard I try, I cannot land a different job. I had a really great series of interviews in the last month, and with each one I could imagine myself in that new role. I allowed myself to dream about the possibilities. But I haven’t been able to close the deal on any, and so I am experiencing the loss of those dreams. Now that my week off of work is coming to a close, I’m reaching the point of accepting the fact that I’m stuck where I am. Five stages of grief in the span of a week. No wonder I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

One thing I do know—I must face that Grief. Head on. I must acknowledge it now that it’s surfaced. I must feel it. If I don’t, it will multiply and fester and fill every pore of my being. And then I truly will not be able to function in an interview, if I’m lucky enough to get another. The few ounces of confidence I’m hanging on to will dissolve. All the things that are right in my life will go wrong.

So I will face it. And I’ll be gentle to myself in these last three days of my time away from work. Whatever tasks are left on my to-do list will take low priority. Instead I will spend my energy consoling, nurturing, being patient, forgiving, honoring. Hopefully when I return to work, I’ll have the strength and the courage to face the madness without getting stung by its viciousness. Any maybe, just maybe, I’ll have some energy left over at the end of each day to keep looking for a different job.

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