Journal from June 2002
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief are well known in our modern society. We all know that denial, anger, sadness, bargaining and acceptance cycle through us as we when we are processing loss. What do those stages look like, though? Would we really know them when we see them in another’s behavior? Better yet, would we be able to recognize them when we, ourselves, are in the middle of one of these emotional cycles? Recently, I have found out that, while the description is simple and obvious, the manifestation can be deceptive.
It was about a month ago that I was sitting in my therapist’s office telling him about my new realization. I had come to the conclusion that transplant, while having its good points, was primarily destructive and cruel. Because of this, my passionate belief was that transplant should be made illegal. After all, it was unnatural and only provided the patients with a limited extension to their lives. I plotted my moves to take on the fall of organ transplantation.
It sounds so silly to me now. No, it sounds sad. Looking back, it’s so obvious that I was in a stage of anger and was looking for a scapegoat to absorb my emotion. What is startling is that I had no idea that this is what was happening. I truly believed I had found my new political calling. I honestly felt a large scale wrong had been done and I needed to find a way to expose the flaws in the system. I spoke passionately and logically. I had plenty of reasons to support my position. I had no idea that I was externalizing a very internal grief.
I turned on the news today and I heard a mother making a passionate plea. Her daughter had fallen overboard off of a cruise ship and died. She was declaring that, while we think that cruises are safe, they really are not. She was calling for stricter laws and protocols around all cruise ships. People were listening to her. Arguments were being made for and against the safety of cruise ships. What I saw, however, was her stage of grief. She was angry about her loss and looking for the scapegoat, just like I was. It was fascinating that people were listening to her arguments and not seeing past them to her pain.
Cruises are actually relatively safe. Transplant should not be illegal. Care must be taken when listening to the diatribes of the grieving. What may seem like a logical argument may just be the manifestation of a grief searching for something to blame.
When we are anticipating the stages of grief in those who have suffered loss, do we really know what we are looking for? When we are in the middle of our own grief pain, do we really know what is driving us? Despite all of our psychological sophistications, I believe that answer is very often "No".