All Stages of Grief – I’m Having the Wrong Feeling

I’ve been unfairly dismissive at times of the idea of the ‘stages of grief’. I’ve been subject to the usual misunderstanding of seeing the idea as being offered as a rigid linear process, rather than as the as the supportive suggested frame that many many people have found it to be, and continue to find it to be, since Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote about the 5 stages of grief in her 1969 book: On Death and Dying.
It is that very misunderstanding, the notion of the ‘right way’ to grieve, which is unhelpful when we have an experience which I’m coming to see as both common, and little spoken of, in particular in our response to death: Having the wrong feeling.

What has struck me repeatedly recently, both in my own experience and that of others, is just how common the experience of response to loss and bereavement is: “I am having the wrong feelings
There are many many different versions of this.
in the early stage of grief, some people will experience different emotions such as elation, numbness, relief, joy etc etc etc. with an accompanying feeling judgement of some version of “I shouldn’t be feeling this!
…and even as I write this, I’m aware of the spectre of a reader judging “I don’t feel elation, numbness, relief, joy – there must be something wrong with me!”
Later, the classic: “I should be over this/feeling better by now!”
Other examples might be:“Why am I laughing” “I shouldn’t be relieved””Why am I not sad?” “Why am I still sad?” Why am I so angry?” etc etc

Perhaps one of the useful lessons of Kübler-Ross, read well, is that grief is can be complicated, confusing, difficult to understand, and is different for everyone.

I once had the difficult privilege of informing a class of children that one of their classmates had died. what was striking was the ease with which there was movement from shock to sadness to confusion, to looking forward to going swimming, and so forth. It was as if no-one had taught them to expect to have a particular reaction to judge themselves against. I found it difficult, but liberating to witness.

My suggestion here is that we might at times be able to have a compassionate conversation with ourselves which goes something like this:
“I’m having the wrong feeling”
“Of course I’m having the wrong feeling – it’s a normal natural part of grieving to feel like I’m having the wrong feeling”

…and the dream is of course to generalise:
“I’m having the wrong feeling”
“Of course I’m having the wrong feeling – it’s a normal natural part of being human to feel like I’m having the wrong feeling”

Stephen Tame 2019

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