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More than just five stages

McKenzie Ward

Staff Writer

I sat in the cafeteria of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. over my January break when a tsunami of grief swallowed my family.

News of my great Aunt Patty’s death poured through the cracks in the walls I had built around myself with bricks of hope.


Hope that the woman who had helped raise me since I was 6 months old would make it. Her passing followed a mere 32 hours after her husband’s death due to injuries sustained in a car accident.

I could see my mom’s mouth wording something out to me, but I was drowning. The tsunami had consumed me whole and I could barely breathe.

I was 446 miles away from home and there has never been another moment in my life I so desperately desired Dorothy’s ruby red slippers.

I was mad at myself.

For not calling them more.

For not canceling the trip even though their doctors told me to go.

For not being able to remember the last time I told them “I love you.”

People showed their support understanding what I was going through, but others did more harm than good.

I don’t want to hear you say “their death was a blessing.” The implication that “at least” something worse hadn’t happened downplays what people go through. As if they are not allowed to grieve because at least something worse hadn’t happened.

My pain and loss are not a “blessing.”

When they first passed, I had a lot of people reaching out to me – giving me advice about grief, sending me articles, telling me it gets easier, and telling me they knew what I was going through.

Many people had me believing I would deal with my grief in a very cookie-cutter way. That I would go through the five stages of grief and everything would be OK.

What many fail to realize when they aren’t in your shoes is that grieving is not linear, or even a relatable experience in most cases. There are not necessarily five predefined stages everyone follows in order to cope with their grief. It’s often uncontrollable and creates a life of its own.

Many times, the grieving process is a disorganized mess of trying to figure out how to live your life with what feels like a piece of you is now missing.

The hole is a void I have tried to fill with memories of what was once there, but nothing will ever come close enough to fill it than their actual presence here with me.

Everyone deals with trauma in different ways, so no one can be expected to have similar experiences when an event to this degree occurs.

As time passed, the initial tsunami did too but it has left me in pieces and I am still trying to recover.

As the weeks continue to pass, there are good days and then there are the really bad days where I just want to stay in bed and don’t want to talk to anyone.

No, I am not OK, and I don’t think I will ever be. But, just as others who deal with unexpected loss of loved ones, I’ll learn how to cope with my grief.

But the loss of my loved ones will never get easier.

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