Monday, January 7, 2013

DABDA Grief Stages

These last few years, I have taken an unscientific approach to grief. Basically, if I cry when I think of losing any part of my parents, I’m grieving. If I don’t cry, I think I’m not grieving. Except I know I’m not okay because sadness still weighs on my heart even when my eyes do not spout tears. But I tend not to analyze much or name my feelings. Sometimes I wonder if that might be helpful.

Working in the 1960s with terminally ill people, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross hypothesized there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance (DABDA). Although her hypothesis has been criticized by other researchers, it has also been applied to any form of personal loss. Also, the suggestion is not that a person feels DABDA sequentially, but that he or she probably feels DABDA multiple times during the grief process.

Let’s take me and my father’s living in a nursing home, for example. At first, I was so angry, I was numb, disbelieving, denying, trying to figure out some other way. Fast-forward one year to his first anniversary there—after much boomeranging off rocky hillsides of the grief valley—I’d finally accepted his new reality. Or so I thought. The anniversary dumped oppressive, debilitating sadness on me. Then a let’s-make-the-best-of-this acceptance won over the next nine months; now I’m in the throes of bargaining again … Isn’t there some other way?

Now, with my mother’s health being more newly compromised, my feelings of incipient loss are acute. Here we go again. Since my DABDA patterns will no doubt be different for her, how will I manage two different grief tracks? I don’t know if it will help to consciously recognize denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as I plod forward. My sense is that with so many practical challenges ahead for my parents, my energies are best focused on simply taking each step as it comes and deciding where I need to be proactive. Remaining gentle with everyone’s feelings—my parents have their own losses to process, too—seems more important than naming feelings. I don’t know; does self-care suffer if you aren’t aware of your stages of grief (DABDA or whatever model you prefer)? What do you think?

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