Navigating your own grief is challenging, no question about it. In theory, the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, are a part of the framework originally proposed by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, while writing about coming to terms with one’s own death. These five stages have since been used as a helpful framework for anyone in grief.
In my own experience, just as difficult –if not more difficult– than navigating your own grief is navigating grief as a couple.
Between my partner and I, we’ve lost four people we care about in the past 7 months. In order: my aunt, his dad, my dad, and most recently his grandmother, (just this past weekend) who was also a mother figure to him.
We’ve been further challenged by our self employment. There is no such thing as “time off with pay” when you are sole proprietors. And we’re also navigating a reconciliation period from last year’s 8 month separation while he fished in Alaska.
It’s difficult to balance your needs with your partner’s needs during the everydayness of a relationship, but add grief and extra challenges and this balance becomes even more difficult.
For one thing, the stages of grief have been proven to not be linear stages. You can dance back and forth between depression and acceptance for months if not years. And of course, you are unlikely to be in the same stage at the same time. So when one partner is moving on, the other might be depressed, which creates tension and feeling a need to tiptoe around one another which feels inauthentic. Also, with multiple deaths in a short time frame, there is almost a sense of rivalry (comparison for sure) at who is grieving the most and when and why, and whose funeral was the best, and how we honored the lives of those we lost. This is ridiculous of course, but human emotions are not always rational, even in the best of times.
Other questions come up:
- How can I support my partner without losing sight of my own boundaries and needs?
- How do I deal with my anger and impatience when I don’t feel like being understanding and patient right now?
- How can I best help my partner process his / her grief while still honoring my own process and continuing to move forward with my own life?
Of course, being me, I hold myself to a high standard and expect to do more than just muddle through. I am still learning to be gentle with myself and accept that I have to take care of myself first in order to be there for my loved ones.
My most relied-upon tools are the same ones I teach my clients.
- HeartMath(R) –to transform the negative and draining energy into positive.
- Walks in Nature –to bask in a sense of awe and wonder.
- Creative Expression –to help process the emotions
- A reliance on Spirit –to help when it gets too tough.
But unexpected encouragement that shows up in your inbox is also a big help. This past week was a particularly challenging one for me. I didn’t handle any of it as gracefully as I might hope, although certainly better than I could have.
I subscribe to Notes from the Universe, by Mike Dooley. This morning, here is what it said:
“You’re simply the best, Kristin. You blow my mind. We’re all in total awe. How you hold together under pressure. How you face up to your challenges. And your rebound ability totally rocks. You’re driven, persistent, and strong. Playful, silly, fun. Compassionate, sympathetic, understanding. You’re just plain unstoppable. And you always have time for others. What a package. Soooo…
How ’bout cutting yourself some slack every now and then?
Beautiful. Thanks Mike. And this goes for all of you as well.