Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Disbelief and Reconciliation

Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.
Anne Roiphe

I've been thinking about the role that grief plays in my life now.  It's been almost three years and four months since Matthew died, and I know that I carry grief in my pocket like a well-worn talisman, its edges worn down by constant caressing. There's a lot of literature and research out there about the five stages of grief first proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. I'm sure you are all very familiar with these stages:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Early on I realized that these stages weren't sequential or even finite, but rather made up a continuum that one crisscrossed on the journey. In the first year, these stages would wash over me in random waves, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs and (more often than not) out of order. I now know that one doesn't cross some sort of finish line and be "done" with it. It's just not that simple.

I think that part of my curiosity about grief stems from the fact that there are still moments when disbelief settles upon me seemingly out of the blue. It's not like the disbelief that occurred in the very beginning, when it was more in the form of denial (or shock). No this is a post-acceptance type of disbelief where you are suddenly hit with the undeniable fact that this is where your life is now. I imagine that this happens to people who are fighting a serious illness too. A wave of awareness appears out of nowhere knocking you off of your axis, reminding you of your new reality. It can be a bit jarring, this brush with your new normal. It's a harsh reminder that your world is irrevocably changed.

Dr. Alan Wolfeldt is an expert in the field of grief and loss, and he came up with the term "reconciliation," which I think is a more apt way to express that place that one ultimately lands. Dr. Wolfeldt feels that eventually people become reconciled to the new reality of their lives. With time, one is able to grow and expand their life around their grief in order to continue living.  Notice he says around their grief, he doesn't say in absence of their grief.  He states that "with reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of death and a capacity to become reinvolved in the activities of living."

So I guess I am at the point where I am reconciled to my life as it exists now. My future and that of my family's was forever changed on October 22, 2010. But time has helped ease the sharp edges of grief, rendering it more manageable to carry. I am under no illusions that my grief will ever disappear completely; I fully expect it to be with me for the rest of my life. I also suspect that I will continue to experience those startling moments of disbelief when the reality of Matthew being gone surfaces to the top of my consciousness (almost as if for the first time). Yet I also know that we will go on and remake our lives as best we can, letting Matthew's memory serve as a touchstone upon which to rebuild them with new meaning and purpose.

Below is a poem that I came upon at some point over these last few years. I like its sentiment and how it addresses the fact that we don't get over a broken heart; it merely becomes part of our existence.

The Cure

by Albert Huffstickler

We think we get over things.
We don't get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
That things that become part of our experience
never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to 'get over' a life is to die.
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things
and be then not any less pain but true to form.
Because anything natural has an inherent shape
and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That's what we're looking for:
not the end of a thing but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life
without obliterating (getting over) a single
instant of it.


  1. Robin,
    We met at the Enneagram retreat in Burlingame last May. I just want to tell you how much I enjoy your posts. The wisdom and writing are lovely in their strength and vulnerability.

    Siobhan Nash

  2. Robin, you have encapsulated the beginnings of my own experience very eloquently. I know instinctively that I will never 'get over' Jake's death, that I will have to learn to live with it. How, I don't yet know. But I get a small lesson every day that I do. We make our lives moment by moment, each moment leading to the next. I am so new at this, I get those waves constantly, the "stages" coming in random orders and combinations. Thank you for the insight as to how I might come to see this, I have many years to learn my lessons. Be well.

  3. Robin, This is beautiful and profound. I love the idea of being reconciled with grief...It isn't gone, it just takes on new forms..some of which are life giving, other times it takes you to your knees. When I opened up my Facebook this evening and saw that you had posted a blog today, I believe that the reason you kept "appearing" to me on my walk this morning has something to do with the energy you exuded when writing this powerful, heartfelt blog. Amazing...Love, M

  4. I, too, am reconciled to my new life. Most of the time. It takes work, two steps forward and a step back, and then around and about... yes? Because every once in a while a jagged edge protrudes from seemingly nowhere, and OUCH. I'm not sure that the vulnerability of our raw insides is ever fully protected.

    That's why we have one another.
    Love to you,