(Tenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
When there is a rupture in the earth’s crust it creates a seismic disturbance, the prelude to an earthquake. Something seismic happened deep inside us the day our son died – a fissure opened, and all our energy was expelled. What followed that shock was the onset of grief and, as with earthquakes, the aftershocks. But unlike earthquakes, the aftershocks of grief continue for days and months and even years.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross delineated the process most people go through in her Five Stages of Grief. We may move through them in order or circle back around some stages. Ultimately, if we grieve well and go forward in life after a loss, we will come to accept what has happened. But there is no escaping the need to face our feelings and come to terms with them.
A common response to an earth-shattering event is denial. Disbelief and the feeling of being numb or paralyzed is common as is a mental rejection and an inability and unwillingness to accept what has happened. Denial is our mind’s way of moderating something that is so overwhelming it threatens to swallow us alive.
Anger usually surfaces in the grieving process once we realize that we will probably survive this unwelcome shock. It is a natural and healthy reaction to the unfairness of loss. Underneath this anger is, of course, pain. A pain so deep that it cannot be remedied with any physical intervention. It is heartbreak that is desperately searching for a miracle cure and angry that it cannot be found.
Bargaining is trying to negotiate and somehow change the past with all its regrets – wanting to wind back the clock. To have a chance to do things all over again, differently, better with the wishful thinking that the outcome would change. We know, of course, that our illusions are merely our desires and that we cannot change the past, but the feelings of desperation from loss still cause us to attempt to make a deal.
These grief emotions remind me of a tsunami, one of the after-effects of a seismic disturbance. When the earth shifts violently under the ocean, it displaces massive amounts of water, which build up and grow in energy and height as they approach land. This is so similar to our lives when tragedy occurs. Deep inside us we feel the destructive force as it rushes to the surface of our life and overwhelms us. Ultimately, our survival depends on the foundation our “house” is built on and the community support available to us. We will need all the help we can get to survive these unanticipated and inevitable disruptions.