Chartered client, Ronelle Baker, reflects on her grieving process at the loss of a very close friend. She shares her story in the hope of helping others experiencing the same pain of loss.
So when you’re battling through grief, you are told about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What you’re not told is that once you’re through one of these stages, it’s not yet done … any particular stage can come back and wring your heart all over again!
A story of past and recent loss and grief
29 years ago, I lost my mother to ovarian cancer. At the time, I was working hard towards becoming a successful businesswoman and felt that “we can get through this”. Of course that did not happen.
On the death of my mother, the grief “stage” that would not release was anger. I was mad as a snake that she’d died: diagnosed on Tuesday, died on Sunday but she had battled the disease silently for years. So, while her passing was probably a “happy release” (an unhelpful phrase), that did not ease the pain at the time.
My Mom died in Zimbabwe, so after the gathering of the family and the funeral, lots of tea, cake, crying, reminiscing, clearing out a home and settling my Dad elsewhere, life eventually returned to “normal”.
But, in grief, normal is not normal at all.
My husband, family and friends helped where they could, but were all walking on eggs around me to prevent whatever it was that I was holding onto did not explode and leave a mess everywhere!
Eventually my devoted husband could take no more of this. My family, friends and work colleagues had complained of my unusual behaviour and lack of empathy and I sought help. It was a revelation – I was taught to throw cups against the wall (they had to smash for it to be effective – it worked!). I was able to release the anger and start the grieving process in peace.
Fast forward to December 2016
My dear friend, Judy, died. She’d also been battling with ovarian cancer for about 18 months. I witnessed with admiration her bravery, determination and feistiness. Although her health deteriorated rapidly from month to month, she managed to undertake a few trips, but they took their toll on her. Nothing would dissuade her from getting on a plane and flying to busy and crowded destinations – even to the point of arranging her chemo sessions to suit her trips, and managing trips between surgeries – such absolute resolve was impressive.
I was gobsmacked as I watched her fight this terrible disease, and full of awe at her family and friends. The oncology staff, hospital staff, and surgeons always had Judy’s best interests at heart.
Until we’ve been with a friend or relative on an almost daily basis, watching her fade away, I don’t think any of us understands what a toll cancer takes on a body. Judy persevered and, at the end of her life, flew to the coast (with tubes and bags discreetly hidden in a plastic shopping bag at the airport) to spend the last five weeks of her life with her family.
For me personally, it was a heart-breaking time but such an honour and privilege to be part of Judy’s journey.
Finding a healed heart
The difference between today’s grieving and that of 1988 is that I now am aware of the five stages of grief, and that they do pop up when you least expect. It’s sometimes tricky to identify them in the midst of our daily lives, but talking about it often helps … and tearfully if necessary. Having support from my husband, family and friends is healing, and understanding the process this time has definitely helped.
My story is one of understanding and support. I know the five stages of grief are real and yes, they do bite you when you least expect them, but having the ability now to identify them, to go through grief gently, slowly and respectfully, means you will come through and, in the end, know you are blessed for being in the lives of the people that you love.