stepping into the change

Baseball Boy

When the toughest change in my life happened (the death of my wife), it was I who spent the same amount of money that would have been paid to a funeral director for a box to have her casket built by a local artist.

My father-in-law could never understand or forgive such “disloyalty,” but I had my wedding ring cut off my finger the day after she died. My marriage had come to an end when Holly stopped breathing, but this wasn’t the reason for this gesture. This is just my way of dealing with the change.

Like the oldest Hindu son lighting a pyre, it was I who threw the switch after her body had been placed in the crematory’s retort. I stepped outside and inhaled the smoky air. I made her death a part of me.

As my father taught me to swing at a baseball, I believe in stepping into the change. Accepting it, wasting no time in denial.

According to the observation of terminally-ill patients by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the reality of one’s mortality is hard for most people to face, and Denial is one of the first reactions of the dying following the initial diagnosis. What this means is that the person is trying to shut out the reality or magnitude of their situation, and beginning to develop a false, preferable reality.

Kübler-Ross later expanded her theory to apply to any form of catastrophic personal loss, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or income, major rejection, the end of a relationship or divorce, drug addiction, incarceration, the onset of a disease or chronic illness, an infertility diagnosis, as well as many tragedies and disasters (and even minor losses).

In a divorce, children feel the need to believe that their parents will get back together, or will change their minds. Usually they don’t.

In a break-up, the person left behind is unable to admit that the relationship is really over. They may continue to call the former partner even though that person wants to be left alone. Instead they may deny their feelings and not admit that they are upset about it at all.

In addiction, people feel that they do not have a problem concerning alcohol or substances. Even if they do feel as if they might have a small problem they believe that they have complete control over the situation and can stop drinking or doing drugs whenever they want.

The Kübler-Ross hypothesis holds that there are some individuals who struggle with death until the end. Some psychologists believe that the harder a person fights death, the more likely they will be to stay in the denial stage and die an undignified death.

The Kübler-Ross model has enjoyed widespread acceptance by society, but by no means full. In the scientific studies of George Bonanno, for example, he argues that the stages of grief do not exist. Bonanno’s research shows that most people who experience a loss do not grieve, but are resilient.

When I had my stroke, I think I spent less than a half-hour mourning the change. The important thing is getting on. There’s lots of time along the way to grieve. It is better, anyway, to integrate one’s loss into the activity of daily life. Better than letting progress grind to an interminable stop and compounding the problem.

There are plenty of moments to cry.

I am not saying that my way is the only way for others, only that it has worked for me. It has been 21 years since Holly died, and there hasn’t been a single day that I have not mourned her passing. My belief is that this loss should be integrated into life, not compartmentalized and swept under the rug.

In time, loss becomes easier to handle. In time, loss makes us stronger.


Strong Enough to Bend


Groove of the Day

Listen to Tanya Tucker performing “Strong Enough To Bend”


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