Sunday, April 25, 2010


Mental Health Experts agree:
      There are Five Stages Of Grief

       1. Denial and Isolation.
          At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer.
       2. Anger.
          The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if he/she is dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. He/She may be angry with themselves for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, there was nothing or no-one who could have stopped it.
       3. Bargaining.
          Now the grieving person may make bargains with God, asking, "If I do this, will you please take away the loss?"
       4. Depression.
          The person feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath.
       5. Acceptance.
          This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of the loss.

    On 11 December, 1984 I received a phone call. It was my mother, calling to give me the news. My younger brother, 5 years my junior at the tender age of 27, had taken his own life. I was in California. My Mom was in North Carolina, and my Brother Sean was in Denver, Colorado. I had spoken on the phone with Sean, only three days before. This just couldn't be happening. I had to be dreaming. Stage 1!

    I skipped stage 2, and went directly into trying to make a deal with a God, I didn't yet believe in. Everything else in my life was going great. I was happily married. Owned my own home, had recently been promoted in rank to Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8). I went "ALL-IN" and asked to trade everything I had to get my little brother back. "God, you don't have to raise him from the dead. Just let this be a case of mistaken Identity. Let this be somebody else's brother. Surely that can't be too tough for an all powerful God, like you."

    Three days later I was back in North Carolina. And so was the body my brother was no longer using. My mother didn't have the time (so many visitors) or the desire to go make funeral arrangements this time. This was the second son she would bury in her life time, and she asked me and my sister to go. We did.

    The day was dreary, cold and gray. The trees were nude of foliage. The air was silent, windless and misty. The weather matched my mood perfectly. Sullen, but not weeping. Sad, but wanting to tell a joke just to break the monotony. But my timing was off and everything I said sounded humorless. I met people I hadn't seen in years. I was unmoved by their sentiments. Perhaps they meant well. Were they trying to cheer me up? Or were the trying to console me? Or possibly trying to help themselves get through this darkness? I didn't know or care. I just couldn't feel anything. For my brother, for myself or for them. I was numb. I didn't even feel the cold of the night as I walked outside. I know it was cold out because it had started to snow. But why couldn't I feel it? I even tried to get stoned with some old friends. Not to dull my grief. But to try and feel something. Anything! This was full on stage 4. And there was no relief in sight.

    We rode to the Catholic Church of my youth, to ask God to bless those of us who were left behind. The casket was closed because my brother had chosen a particularly gruesome way to mortally wound himself. That was just fine with me. I didn't want to have the last time I saw Sean, for him to be dead. I knew I'd never be able to erase that picture from my slate.

    There were maybe 300 people in Church that morning. I had no idea my brother even knew that many people, much less had that many friends. I was even more impressed when they all got in their cars and followed to the cemetery. Sean's grave was a few yards away from where our youngest brother Eric had been buried 25 years earlier. And about 200 yards from where my Grandmother was resting, and about 40 yards from where my mother would be laid to rest 12 years later. When they lowered the coffin my heart sank with it. My brother was gone. There was no changing that. All the things he had known or would ever know were gone. Everything he ever had, or would have were gone. Everything he said or would say were gone. His love, joy and compassion were all gone. I stood at the graveside and told him goodbye. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and I felt the breeze in my hair. Only 7 days since the phone call and I was in stage 5. Damn, this was easy. Or so I thought.

    There are only 5 stages of grief and I had accepted that my brother was gone. And there was nothing easier than what I had just gone through. Those so called MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTS were full of tartar sauce. There are in fact 5 stages in the grieving process. But the order in which they occur aren't always the same for everyone. I had completely skipped over step 2.

    And 3 days later I jumped into stage 2 (ANGER), head first, and stayed there for about 5 years. My little brother who had felt that the only way to escape the torment in his life, was to kill himself. It was a very drastic decision and I couldn't imagine how terrible I would have to feel to come to a similar decision. So I became furious with everyone I could remember who may have added to Sean's torment. My ass-hat father was at the top of the list. Followed closely by my brother's ex-wives (2). The list grew exponentially. Fortunately, for me, no-one on my list ever died mysteriously. I would have been any District Attorney's dream come true. I had means, motive and intention. Perry Mason couldn't have won that one. Even I was on my list. Every cross word I had ever uttered to my brother came back to haunt me. Then one day while I was recalling a particularly nasty argument we had about 15 years earlier, I decided that I was to blame for his decision. And I was bound by honor to make me pay for it.

    But I came to my senses and realized that nobody but my brother knew what his motivation was. No-one was to blame but him. It was his decision and his decision alone. No one can make anyone take their own life. Anyone can make you do almost anything else. But only you can make you over-ride your instinct for self preservation. Whatever the motivation. It will not sound sane to those left in its wake. That is because there is something very unsane going on in the mind of the perpetrator. There is something very unsane about taking your own life. There is nothing anyone can do to stop a suicide, and there is nothing anyone can do to cause one.

    His friends had told me, that he had told them, he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. His second ex-wife, who had found his body in her bedroom, had told us he was always stoned or drunk. The coroner's report showed that neither of those statements were true. The police had only found 4 things in the room that did not belong to his ex-wife. A pack of Marlboro cigarettes, a box of matches, a 12 gauge shotgun and a leather bound copy of the KING JAMES BIBLE. Back then I took very little notice of the book's presence. But today I am greatly comforted knowing it was with him.

    If you or someone you know deals with this type of loss keep in mind these lessons.
    1. There is no-one to blame.

    2. You must go through all 5 stages. But the order may be different.

    3. The length of time for each stage varies by the person experiencing it. Don't judge another person's love of your lost one by the length of time it takes them to get through it.

    4. The feelings of loss will never be completely gone. However they won't always be as intense as they are in the beginning. And they won't last as long either.

    5. One day you will wake up and that person will not be the first thing that crosses your mind. Don't punish yourself for it. And don't punish others for their not thinking of the lost one.

    6. Let others do things for you now. They won't feel motivated later.

    7. Find someone who will let you show emotions. Then show them.

    8. You are not the only person who has gone through this. There is comfort in company of like minded people.

    9. Get some help.


    Ms. Anthropy said...

    Well done! Even though it's was years ago, I'm sorry for your loss. Those losses have a way of shaping us, even when we aren't consciously aware they are. Bless you.

    MsDarkstar said...

    Very well written. And,as Ms. Anthropy said, even though it was years ago, I am sorry for your loss.

    I'm going to keep this post in mind. I have a feeling it will come in handy at some point in my life.

    Marnie said...

    Great post KW. It will certianly give comfort and encouragement to someone who needs it.

    I'm sorry for your loss. That must have been a very difficult time for you.

    I agree about the stages. My father died of ALS. I went through some of them while he was alive and after he passed away. Because he was terminal, his death wasn't a shock, but it was still upsetting. I miss him dearly, yet I'm relieved he is no longer suffering.


    Karen said...

    Wise words, Kurt. And I am so sorry that you had to endure this painful loss.

    Kelly Combs said...

    Kurt - I am so sorry for your loss. We talked about depression at church today, and the fact that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

    Thank you for this wise and wonderful post.

    Alice in Wonderland said...

    Kurt, thank you for this post. I know that we have only just met, and that I told you about my circumstances, well, about the death of my husband, but I also lost my parents, my brother and sister all within the space of ten weeks, Christmas '08/February '09, so now that I am alone, wounds are still raw. It's a complicated story but still very hard to write about.
    It was just as I was writing on Vodka Logic's site a few minutes ago that it was compared to a scab that you keep on picking at.
    I'm still scared to write openly about it, but hopefully that will pass. I just don't want sympathy or people to feel sorry for me. Things happen in life that you have no control over.
    Talk to you soon.
    Take care.

    Just telling it like it is said...

    I agree! So sorry to hear that!

    Amber said...

    Great post. My younger cousin took his life a few years ago. Death is never easy to deal with but suicide and murder seem to be especially difficult.

    Senorita said...

    Great post ! I am sorry for your loss. I feel nothing but sympathy for those who who lost someone to suicide and for those who felt that there was no way out and that killing themselves was their only option.

    red.neck chic said...

    I'm not sure what to say here... but I do know that I admire you - and you're writing skills! I am sorry for your loss - even though I'm late.

    When my Grandmother passed away my anger hit about 6 months later. I was SO mad that it led in to a career change - and ultimately brought me to where I am today. So... I think she had a great deal to do with me coming out of it in a much better place.

    Thank You for sharing! ;-)

    NicNacManiac said...

    I have no words...your prolific outpouring of your soul comforts so many!! Although many years have passed, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your loved ones!!
    xOxO Nerina