The Five Stages
When someone experiences a significant loss…be that the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, an unexpected upheaval or even a negative life changing event; sickness, paralysis, that last Superman movie…it's common for that person to go through what is commonly known as, "The Five Stages of Grief".
The Five Stages of Grief are a pretty standard and universal series of emotional states, ranging from denial to acceptance.
And in my experience, can and have, fluctuated wildly.
Originally called The Kübler-Ross Model, named after Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the official five stages are:
3. Bargaining (my personal favorite)
It's also popularly known by it's Flintstone-sounding acronym "DABDA".
It's important to note that this was never meant to be a complete list of feelings or emotions that someone might experience, nor is it a set order.
In my case depression came first with anger right on its tail.
Sadly, as of this writing, I have not yet reached Acceptance.
Since I'm a big fan of lists…and acronyms, I'd like to briefly examine these stages and how they've affected me personally. Starting right at the beginning.
So lets all jump feet first, right into...
Here's something that should make you laugh.
Specifically if you knew my mom.
If you didn't know her, just play along.
I promise we won't think any less of you and there will not be a quiz.
Saturday, February 1st. 1:30 pm.
I had just gotten home and turned on my computer. I was going to try to use this free afternoon to get some work done. The moment I sat down, my home phone rang. Nobody ever calls my home phone. The fact that I even still have a landline is puzzling. But the phone rang and I saw on the caller ID that it was St. Catherine's Hospital.
My mother had a long history with a bizarre form of anemia.
In almost 30 years, no doctor could figure out the hows and the whys of what it was or how to cure it. Her body could not hold a normal iron count and she had to go for iron infusions once a month. Every so often, the infusions would not hold and she would have to be admitted into St. Catherine's for a transfusion.
This was usually a 2 or 3 day process. She would go in one day. Get the transfusion the next and be held at least a day for observation. So when I saw it was St. Catherine's, I knew immediately it had something to do with my mom. But I just assumed that she had gone back for a transfusion.
When I answered the phone, I had an almost playful attitude.
Like "Oh boy….what's Carol gotten herself into this time"
The voice on the other end said "Is this Michael Versandi?"
I said "Yes".
She continued, "Is Carol Versandi you're mother?"
"She sure is", I replied. "What's up?"
She hesitated and then said "You're mother was brought in unresponsive."
And do you know what I did?
I actually laughed.
You could spend the next 50 years writing down all the words and phrases that described my mom. "Unresponsive" would never make that list. In fact, I can not think of a word that described her less, then "unresponsive".
"Asian", maybe "Asian" describes her less…but that's about it.
If my mother was anything, it was "responsive".
She had a response for and responded to, everything.
Seriously. Everything. It was like some form of verbal OCD.
So when the woman on the phone told me that she was brought in unresponsive, my first instinct was to laugh. Because clearly, this person never met my mom.
In that one brief instant, I was in denial.
After that, it was all pretty much downhill.
Anyone that knows me, could have seen this one coming.
It's a no-brainer.
I'm an angry guy.
I always have been.
I'm not a violent person.
I'm just snarky and cynical. And judgmental. And jaded. And irascible.
And occasionally testy (tee hee…"testy")
My mom always called me "Peppery".
I'm basically an old man who shakes his fist at no one in particular. Mumbling things like "Slow down! This aint the damn Daytona" and "Turn that music down, hippie!".
I've told people to "get the hell off my lawn" and yes, I've written my fair share of angry letters to big companies that I feel have slighted or short-changed me in some way.
So when it came to Anger, well, let's just say that we were already acquainted.
As I noted, Bargaining has been my favorite stage so far.
I think it's because my mom used to love to bargain with people.
Hanging out with her was like walking through a flea market in Tijuana.
Also, I think it's because it has allowed me to see into my own head and watch my brain descent into it's own form of personal madness. It's both unbelievably upsetting and incredibly liberating.
It's like this…my conscious mind, the one I use to make observations and deliberate decisions, like changing the channel whenever Guy Fieri is on TV, knows matter-of-factly, that my mom is dead.
Nothing short of a Frankenstein's monster operation or a possessed Pet Cemetery can change that. And no amount of Mitch Albom books eases the pain of dealing with it.
It's my conscious mind that only wants one thing.
5 more minutes with my mom.
And although I know it's something I can never have, it's my conscious mind that screams for it every single day.
However, my subconscious mind is a dubious, sneaky little bastard.
My subconscious keeps playing tricks on me by occasionally blinding me with delusional flashes.
They occur intermittently and mostly without warning.
For example, I'm currently in the process of cleaning out my mom's house and getting it ready to be put up for sale. And while I was in Home Depot the other day, buying some paint, my subconscious whispered "You should paint her bedroom green. That's her favorite color. She'll like that when she comes home".
So without thinking I started looking at green paint swatches.
And it took me a few minutes before I realized what I was doing and why.
I've been playing this little game with myself for weeks now.
"Just do this and she'll come back".
"She always wanted you to help clean out the garage.
Now that you're doing it, she'll come home".
I won't lie. It's unnerving, because I know I'm the one doing it,
but I'm doing it without knowing.
All I can say is thank God for booze.
Maker's Mark really knows how to shut that chatty little fucker up.
And I know that isn't the standard definition of "Bargaining".
But I've never been big on standards or definitions.
So let's just chalk it up to me being "peppery" and move on.
This has been the hardest for me to deal with.
First, because it's such a profound and overwhelming emotional state.
And second, because it's completely at odds with the person I was.
The grief that came with my mom's death can only be described as like suddenly slamming into a brick wall. I hit it hard and I was left there in a daze.
It was and still is, a very physical trauma.
And it's no small obstacle.
This brick wall is massive.
It towers over me in a foreboding manner.
It's so beyond my comprehension, that I literally can not see over it.
I'm left sitting at it's feet with absolutely no way to get past it.
It just stands there. Silently. Waiting for me to make my next move.
The depression that set in, was like nightfall.
It crept in. Slowly at first. It covered me.
Darkening everything around me until I was completely enveloped by it.
I know that probably sounds overly dramatic, but it's as accurate a description as I could give you. I ended up in this expanse of emptiness…this emotionless void. All while sitting in front of this insurmountable brick wall of grief.
And in the end, everything wound up black.
And not in the funny Jimmie Walker "Dyno-Mite" kind of way.
(I guess I could have used a more contemporary black comedian as a reference)
Black – as in totally devoid of anything.
Everything went completely dark.
There was (and 2 months later, still is) absolutely no light.
If I reach out my hands, I can still feel that wall.
I know it's there and I know there's no way to get around it.
This massive wall of grief in this never ending darkness of depression.
And I know that I have to find a way to live with it.
Sounds pretty bleak, right?
And that's what my second point is all about.
I was never "this guy".
Even at my darkest, I was, maybe…maybe a light shade of tan.
Ask any of my friends.
They'll all tell you. I was a pretty fun, happy-go-lucky guy.
Easy as Sunday morning.
Sure some of my humor was probably left of center, off-color or mildly offensive…depending on how sensitive you are…but I generally made it a point to enjoy myself without ever hurting other people. I liked making people laugh. Especially my mom…who by the way, thought I was hilarious.
But after she died, that jovial part of me was sucked out.
And I think it's partly because my mother was such a giant factor in that side.
My humor and outgoing nature were all from her.
I feel like when she left, it left with her.
And without it, I'm not really sure who I am anymore.
I miss my mom and I miss the person I was because of her.
Does it sound arrogant, if I say I'm mourning the loss of two people?
…it probably does, doesn't it? Ok, forget I said it.
But that's what depression feels like. At least to me anyway.
It feels like walls and darkness and emptiness and Jimmie Walker.
I know that Acceptance is the 5th stage, but like I mentioned at the beginning,
I'm not there yet.
I know she's dead.
I understand it.
But I don't know how to accept it.
Honestly, I don't know if I'll ever accept it.
I feel that acknowledging and accepting are two different things.
My brain can acknowledge something that my heart won't accept.
…holy shit, did I just write that?
This post just turned into a Taylor Swift song…
Now I'm really sad.
Alright, let me wrap this up before I start quoting Miley Cyrus and The Big Bang Theory. The point is, these 5 Stages are very real and I'm doing my best to not get trapped inside any one of them.
Some days are better then others.
Some days are still pretty bad.
And some days I invent new stages to add as amendments to the original list.
I miss my mother more then anyone could possibly sum up in a published paper, graph or diagnostic chart. Hearing people talk about her…saying nice things about her is great, but it's not even close to being a "coping mechanism".
I love her.
I miss her.
And how I wish she were here.
…alright, that's it….I just paraphrased a Pink Floyd song…I'm done.
Thanks for reading.