Our days are full of thresholds to cross. Leaving behind the world as we knew it and entering uncharted territory seems to be a daily occurrence at this time. Stability in our environment appears to be crumbling. It isn’t just about weathering the storm as if our lives will go back to the way we were before. It’s as if the storm has torn the very fabric of our reality.
As we are living in constant transition, we grieve what we have lost as we move into the unknown. We feel the sadness and precious fragility as well as fear and anger and depression when we see actions of dysfunction in individuals and our society.
The transition we experience may be the death of a loved one or deaths of people we don’t even know. It may be the end of a relationship that has broken our hearts and left us with a feeling of emptiness. It may be a medical diagnosis that is terminal or will completely change our, or a loved one’s, way of life. It may be loss of a job or change in our ability for financial stability.
As we are affected by all that is happening around us, we let go of beliefs, assumptions and old ways of being, and this can be disorienting and life-changing. These thresholds are doorways and worthy of acknowledgement. Perhaps ritual could honor the importance and give us structure in such times of transition.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a pioneer in hospice and end-of-life awareness. She has written many books and is perhaps best known for On Death and Dying. After being with thousands of people as they left this world and with their loved ones that remained, she observed five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
She formulated this primarily about the stages of grief at loss of a loved one, although they are relevant in the transitions and thresholds mentioned earlier as well. The stages do not necessarily appear in order nor does everyone experience them. The stages have no time limit or exact way of being expressed, but they do show up and only in retrospect can they be understood.
When experiencing the stages of denial or anger, even the idea of acceptance may be impossible to understand. It is when the heart is cracked wide open that healing may slowly begin from the inside out. With each breath the spirit of life enters us through the pain of loss and the blessing of compassion and support.
Denial doesn’t mean you can’t literally believe your loved one is dead but you cannot fathom the idea that they will not walk through the door again. It is the paralysis, the shock and numbness surrounding a death or a life-changing event that is too much to process. There is a grace in this–we perceive as much as we can handle. As we get stronger we are able to feel and process more of our emotions.
Feeling anger may not be logical or valid. We may feel anger towards ourselves for not being able to stop the event, toward our loved one for leaving us behind, or even toward God for allowing it to happen. Anger is a strength that may give a structure when everything seems to fall apart. It is a surge of energy awakening from the numbness and denial. From here other emotions will arise and you will feel them all as you are able.
Bargaining often begins with “if only” and “what if.” It can be a reprieve from the pain as we try to put in order the chaos. It allows for a distraction as we are able to feel our feelings. It creates a space so as to not feel everything at once.
After the initial shock, anger and distraction of bargaining, we arrive fully at our loss. We are present with the day-to-day reality: that this is what is and we cannot go back to the previous state. It seems depression is an organic response. Feeling and seeing the death of our life as we knew it, even as we go on living. Depression isn’t a malady to treat or fix, but to be with as you explore the loss, often alone, and in your own time.
Acceptance is not feeling “OK” with the great loss in your life, but learning to live with it. Some days may be easier than others. We listen to our needs and heal, grow and evolve. We begin to create a new life for ourselves. Through our own loss we are able to feel a compassion for the suffering of others that we were before unable to imagine.
During these times of great transition, knowing about the outlined stages can be an anchor and support. We understand we are not alone in our feelings and changes of mood. This awareness cultivates compassion and tolerance as we realize we have more in common than we thought with other humans, as we proceed together through different stages of grief.