People often talk about the phases of grief. You know — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It sounds so simple and straightforward, clear-cut and logical.
But, I like to think of them as the “faces” of grief. Like a monster of Greek mythology with many heads, grief is a creature with many faces. Each face that pops up with its menacing glare embodies a different struggle and forces you to battle with its corresponding emotion.
These faces represent all the things encompassed in grief. Fear, guilt, anger, loneliness, depression, apathy, confusion, detachment, the state of overwhelm and the feeling of being lost.
One monster. But, oh, so many heads. So many faces. So much ability for it to swivel and rotate and catch you unaware. And with so many faces, it can go ten rounds without losing its breath, while we, on the other hand, are suffocating for air.
Somehow imagining it as the faces of grief makes sense to me because I can picture each of them with a life all their own. Each with an individual face, offering unique turmoil and specific struggles — particular repercussions and individual powers it wields over me. Instead of picturing a clear-cut journey with five steps, I can picture this erratic monster writhing inside and it makes sense of the chaos.
It also makes sense of the exhaustion of grief. Because you’re not fighting a singular thing. Grief isn’t just sadness. If only it were that simple. You’re battling a ten-headed monster. I picture an epic fantasy movie where the knight, clothed in his armor, is battling this massive beast with his lone sword in some lower dungeon. As he fights the fangs of one head, he turns and faces the attack of another. One against all of them.
That knight is you, the griever.
Once you gain your bearing against one, maybe even landing a decisive blow of temporary victory, the creature turns and another ugly head is staring you down baring its snarling teeth. And a new battle starts. You fight against the loneliness, maybe forcing yourself to go out with a friend, only to fight the guilt when you enjoyed yourself. You fight the apathy, pushing yourself to join in the activities of the world, only to face a sense of detachment. You fight the fear, facing the imposing and daunting task before you, only to face the anger that you are left to deal with it alone. You fight depression, only to face the overwhelming vastness of the long journey of adjustment ahead of you.
Play this cycle out, over and over, and you have the experience of grief.
The beast brings a tidal wave of emotions – tyrannical, unpredictable, irrational and uncontrollable. Oh, that beast sure isn’t housebroken or trained. As a logical person, this came as a hard adjustment to me. I wasn’t used to having this multi-faced creature living inside of me, draining my energy, making me fight silent battles while I stood in the grocery store aisle, drove down the road, sat in church or behind my bedroom door.
What does grief look like to you? A red-eyed face blurred with tears? A droopy face barely cognizant of reality? Or a face pulling its hair, overwhelmed and screaming? All of them and more?
Oh, yes. The grief monster is real. The many faces of grief keep us reeling. The many faces hardly give us time to recoup. We battle, and little by little, gain the wisdom and endurance to subdue this creature.
No wonder they call us grief warriors.