Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
They say there are five stages to the grieving process. What they don’t tell you is that you don’t necessarily go through the stages in order, and you cycle through them over and over before finally reaching acceptance. Each stage may be experienced in different intensities at different times, sometimes moving from one to another with each passing hour or day or week. They also don’t tell you that, while acceptance is the intended end result of the grieving process, it is not always reached. Even when you begin to think it has been, often you find yourself starting all over again.
I am an ER nurse, and one of the hardest parts of my job is delivering the news of a patient’s death. Last night, I had to tell a woman that her husband of almost 60 years had passed away. He arrived in cardiac arrest and we were unable to resuscitate him. I watched her eyes fill with tears as I told her he was gone. I sat with her for a long while as she relayed to me their life together. He was a WWII veteran, they had dated before he entered into the service, he survived the war and they were later married. Four children, several grandchildren and almost 60 years later, here she was standing in the ER hearing the news that the love of her life was gone. The good news though is that her last shared memory of him was lying next to him in their bed as he slept. I’m sure that is the best way to go, lying right next to someone you have loved and shared your whole life with. I know that’s how I would want to go.
I can’t say that I know the depth of pain that woman was feeling in that moment, but I can say that I have felt my own share of grief. I do not know what it feels like to share 60 years of my life with someone, but I know how it feels to share 14 months. It’s not a lifetime, but I wanted it to be. I do not know how it feels to lose a partner that I love to death, but I know how it feels to no longer have them in my life. And that feels a lot like death. If the excruciating grief that I feel right now is only one small percentage of the grief that she is feeling, my heart hurts for her tonight.
The hardest thing to accept about relationships is that they all have an inevitable ending, whether that be in separation, divorce or death. But isn’t that the risk we all take when we love someone? I’m sure if I asked her, that woman wouldn’t take back a single moment she spent with her husband just to prevent the pain she feels right now. After all, doesn’t that pain bring a sense of realness to that love? If losing someone does not cause you pain, it’s safe to say you never loved them at all. And personally, I would rather be that grieving widow any day. It’s a blessing, really. Experiencing true loss means that you have also experienced true love. And that is a beautiful, but heart wrenchingly painful, experience. But at the end of the day, it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.