My 5 Stages of Grief
So, as you know, I’ve been taking happy pills. I’m at the point where I make jokes about it which is very exciting for me, entertaining for my boyfriend, and uncomfortable for my parents. Even though I am proud to say that I am on the right track, I still feel like I am walking on a very tight rope held between two high rises in the middle of a city. I’m currently keeping my balance, but without laser focus I can easily trip over myself and fall. Though this may seem like a journal entry about me “relapsing”, it’s actually an entry about my first time dealing with grief and confusing it with my depression.
My cousin passed away in early March. I was vacationing in Palm Springs, California with my boyfriend, brother, sister-in-law and a few friends when I received the saddest call of my life. My mom was on the other side of the call, and she calmly asked me and my brother to go into a quiet room, which is never a good sign.
“I’m so sorry to have to tell you guys this. We wanted to wait for you to get back but people started writing stuff on social media and we didn’t want you to find out that way.”
“Oh no,” I thought to myself. Did my grandmother die? Maybe an uncle?
“Your cousin Peter has passed away,” said my mom with a light tremble in her voice.
My brother and I stood there in disbelief. I was confused. I was overwhelmed and I was subconsciously trying to convince myself that what we just heard was fake. I thought, “Maybe they just think he’s dead”. Before I knew it, I felt weak to my knees, nauseous and a little cold.
“The first cousin of the Lazaris clan has passed away,” said my mom.
I don’t get it.
A few days later, it hit me. Life is short. I thought of every one of my family members, and their eminent death. This frightening thought dragged me down a very dark hole. One that I had a lot of trouble getting out of. My bed became my new best friend and I had no interest in leaving my 400 square-foot apartment. I started to avoid phone calls, I stopped taking care of myself, and I spent my days watching shitty teen shows on Netflix while scrolling through my phone.
Hey! I know this feeling.
So, I upped my anti-depressants dosage and tried to make an effort to change my daily routine. I was back to taking baby steps. I worked out on my living room carpet for 10–15 minutes a day, I made a conscious effort to leave my home to do the groceries, and I pushed myself to meet up with friends. I was doing my best to get over this “funk”. In my head, depression was winning. I felt completely defeated.
“I was doing so well,” I told my therapist. She then told me not to be so hard on myself, and more importantly, not to confuse grief with depression.
My boyfriend and I live in Toronto and the funeral was being held in the suburbs of Montreal. We were unable to change our flights from Palm Springs, so we had to fly back to Toronto and make our way to Montreal by car. I was so frustrated at how complicated it was to get back to my family. I so desperately wanted to be with them and hug them.
I was in complete denial. I kept thinking about what it was going to feel like when we met my family at the funeral home. I thought about Peter lifting himself up from the casket and saying “Just kidding!” with a huge smile on his face. We would all laugh, hug each other and start to catch up. Sound a little crazy? I know, but the brain can visualize crazy things when it’s not ready to accept reality. The hours of travel made the idea of him still being on this planet more and more possible.
Although he was gone, he was very much alive on social media, which destroyed me. I was happy to see that his memories were still floating around, but heartbroken at the fact that if I were to send him a message, I would never receive a response. My therapist recommended that I get rid of my Facebook and Instagram accounts for a few weeks. What an amazing idea! Instead of doing that, I lurked Facebook, and kept reloading his profile page to see if anyone had left a comment. I thought that seeing kind messages about my cousin would help me move on. Guess what? It didn’t. Instead, I obsessed over old pictures and status updates. I know what Peter would say if he knew what I was doing. “Dude, don’t you have a life?” with a goofy look on his face. Yes, I do. But, in that moment, my life consisted of me trying to wrap my head around the fact that I wasn’t going to be seeing him any time soon. That’s when I realized, I wasn’t helping myself. Instead of acknowledging the fact that I was coping with grief for the first time in my life, I was disappointed in myself for not putting up a fight against depression.
I was so sad. I was so sad that I wasn’t able to tell him how sad I was. I just wanted to tell him “You were loved and I wish I could have said goodbye”. I didn’t say a proper goodbye at the funeral home because I wasn’t ready. I didn’t say a proper goodbye at the church because it didn’t feel “right”. Before I knew it, they closed the casket and I was watching a bunch of men I didn’t know lower Peter into his grave. That sadness soon turned into anger. I had so much time to say my goodbyes. Instead, I spent it looking at Peter’s body and not wanting to accept that life is going to be different now. I felt stupid for taking family time for granted. I assumed he’d always be there. I was looking forward to seeing him at family gatherings, watching him continue to be the amazing father he was, taking pictures with him at my wedding and so much more. I had such a hard time expressing myself throughout his funeral. All I could say was, “I don’t get it”. I became very resentful of life and didn’t understand what the point of everything was.
There had been another viewing going on right next to Peter’s and I couldn’t help but feel jealous. An emotion I felt guilty for, considering I was experiencing it at a funeral home. In the hall next to Peter’s, an 80-something year old french man had passed away, his guests had the opportunity to celebrate his life rather than mourn it. Everyone was smiling, laughing, having a glass of wine while bonding over how great of a man he was. It’s as though his family and friends were able to reflect after the end of his movie. They were lucky because his story was predictable and, in a bittersweet way, had a happy ending. Whereas Peter’s movie ended abruptly, with no clear resolution. How were we expected to celebrate a life that hadn’t been fully lived? It felt unfair because Peter’s story got cut off way before it should have.
I became so desperate that I started to bargain with myself. All I wanted was closure and I felt completely selfish for seeking that. I felt as though family and friends were tired of listening to me talk about how sad I was so I started to keep my thoughts to myself. I was hoping that maybe if I fell asleep, I would be able to say goodbye in my dreams. My mother told me that when her father passed away, she had a beautiful dream about him. She spotted him in an open field, and as she tried to approach him, he simply raised his hand and waved goodbye. I looked forward to sleeping. After two weeks of falling asleep at 9:00PM, he finally popped into one of my dreams. In that dream, I was performing in a show. As I walked into the lobby of the theatre, there he was, waiting for me. We looked at each other and had the most wonderful hug. I didn’t want to wake up.
I couldn’t help but feel upset when I woke up. “That’s it?” I thought. “Does this mean he is officially gone?” Depression was very much present at this point in my road to recovery. I did not have the energy to move forward. I thought that if I moved on to the “accepting phase”, that it would mean that I would be okay with his passing. I was caught off guard by the fact that I didn’t want to fix the state in which I was stuck in. Now that I look back at this stage, I see that this form of depression had nothing to do with my mental illness. Feeling depressed is simply a normal response to losing a loved one. To finally accept that I would never physically see Peter again was emotionally painful. If I didn’t feel some form of depression, that would just be odd.
I read an awesome book called Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Spoiler alert! Eleanor experiences a loss in the middle of the novel. I had been reading it at the time when Peter passed away and a specific quote really stood out to me.
“Grief is a price we pay for love, so they say. The price is far too high.”
Yes, it is too high. But, what am I supposed to do? Become afraid of living because I never want to experience grief again? I realized something after seeing someone post a video of Peter drunkenly singing “Stand By Me” at a wedding on his Facebook wall. As long as I am on this planet, it would be so stupid of me not to enjoy it. I know Peter would be insanely disappointed if he were to find out that I was rotting away in my tiny apartment. Although it was difficult for me to accept the end of Peter’s story, I was reminded that everyone’s story is different. Some stories may end unexpectedly. Some stories may end for others to begin. Everyone’s story is unique, which makes everyone’s experience with grief unique.
Although it was extremely difficult for me to say goodbye to Peter at his funeral, what’s stopping me from doing it now?
Here we go.
If you’re reading this, I want to say that I love you. Growing up, you were my favourite cousin. (So sorry to any other cousins reading this. I was young! Also, don’t lie. We all have our favourites.) I always looked forward to seeing you walk through the front door at family gatherings. Thank you for your constant support, your lame jokes, your yummy baked goods, and making the world a happier place. Even in my dreams, you’re so annoying, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m really going to miss sitting next to you at the kids table.