Head and Heart
Before my parents became sick and died, I had forty-four years with them. Forty-four relatively good years with mostly positive memories. The period of time between when they both became seriously ill and died was seven months. In the grand scheme of my life seven months of sad and painful memories isn’t much compared to forty-four years of good ones. Yet this seven-month period of time was where my mind would go when I thought of them until about Christmas of last year. Then, like a warm day that pops up in late winter, they began coming to me in my thoughts as their former healthier selves. What a relief! How nice to have memories that were pleasant.
At this point in my writing I wondered, “Is this normal?” I don’t want an abnormal grief unless I’m moving through it abnormally fast (as if this wanting will make it so). I reviewed the Kubler-Ross model again and then a newer seven-stage one, trying to diagnose which stage I’m in, even though I really know that healing is not a linear progression through the stages. Have I moved into Acceptance or am I still in Depression? A voice pops up, “Well you are feeling better, those happy memories of mom and dad are starting to filter in, so that could be a sign that you’re in Acceptance.” Another voice adds, “Maybe you want to be in Acceptance even though you’re still in Depression” and “If you’re in Acceptance, this sucks, let’s hope that there is more to healing than this.” And back to “but no…. I’m tired of being depressed. Can’t I be in the beginning stages of Acceptance?” So the characters in the one-act play of my mind go on and on. The rationale being that if I can legitimately put myself in the Acceptance stage then it means I’m getting better and knowing that will give me some sort of relief and release. Hmmm….
It is understandable that I want this to be so. I’ve never been through the death of my parents before and I want a road map. I like knowing where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. It gives me a sense of control and that there is order underlying the chaos. The chaos being my feelings, which can swing wildly; and while hurricane season seems to be behind me, periodic and unpredictable thunder storms still occur.
I realize I am whipping myself into a frenzy, which is not what I wanted at all! So I stop, take a breath, and ask myself what is it that I want? The answer I get is that I want relief from my pain, more good days than bad, and more happy memories not what stage of grief am I in. Getting out of my head and into my heart and having compassion for myself (including the analytical in-my-head part of me) is what ultimately gives me relief in the moment. Getting into my heart and understanding what I am feeling then helps me figure out what I need. Right now it’s the gentle reminder to be in the here-and-now and that I’m okay. Other times my feelings let me know to reach out to others for support, or do something nice for myself, or go for a run, or work harder, or express gratitude.
There is not one right way to grieve and being in my head, analyzing and reviewing has its place along side of being with my feelings. In looking back over the year I realize I am getting better, even if I can’t figure out which stage I’m in. This leads me back to where I started, thinking about my parents and how grateful I am that they are coming to me as the vibrant people they once were. I don’t need to know why this is so to be grateful. Just sitting and enjoying with the warm memories is enough.