Last week I had the great privilege of being part of an incredible thing. ‘Someone, Somewhere’ (written for radio by Pat Davis and brought to the stage by The Green Room Productions) is a beautiful play about the true, and very tragic, story of Jessie Earl. Given the fact that Jessie was murdered in 1980, it was easy to assume that the experience of watching this play was going to be depressing and rather bleak. But threaded through the obvious sadness there was great joy. The play wasn’t about the loss; it was about the life.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ~ Anne Lamott
Grief is such a personal and individual journey. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve – it just is what it is. In 1969 a Swiss psychiatrist, Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, introduced the concept of there being five stages of grief. Popularly known by the acronym DABDA, these include:
Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defence mechanism.
Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger. You might direct it towards other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too.
Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.
Depression: Sadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.
Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life.
Jessie Earl’s life was cruelly ended when she was just 22, over forty years ago. Yet last week more than 300 people got to know her for the incredibly vibrant, energetic and life-loving girl that she was. The experience was without doubt emotional, but in a very uplifting and positive way.
So perhaps the ‘best’ way to grieve for someone is to focus on their life, not their death, and to embrace every moment of joy that life has given you. Grief is, in fact, love.
“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” ~ Jamie Anderson