• Jeff Johnston

How Do You Grieve?


Grief is the response to a loss, usually the loss of someone or some living thing that has died, from which a special bond or love had formed. The response to grief is very unique to each of one us and certainly can go in many directions, some very rewarding and some catastrophic. The “five stages of grief” model was introduced by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.


The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the ones we lose. These tools can help guide us through this often turbulent process. I don’t believe there is a correct order and I don’t believe all 5 apply. For example, I have never been depressed. I have depressive moments but not depression. I tried depression a few times and I didn’t like it so I quit. That is kind of how I’m wired. This isn’t meant to be disparaging to the millions of people who struggle daily with the very real issues with depression. However to me, and only me, it is an unfulfilling illusion and I don’t allow it into my life.


In the past 4.5 years, I have been presented with the opportunity to fully understand and test these stages of grief and to develop strategies to overcome them. As many of you know, death has entered my life recently and has taken two people I loved dearly. Death is coming for us all eventually, yet when it rips our loved ones from us so soon the brutal reality often seems so utterly unreal.


I am often asked how I could have survived such unimaginable loss and trauma that has happened to me? Losing a son at the age of 23 to a heroin overdose and now my beautiful wife of 21 years to substance abuse? Doesn't seem fair? What is fair? Life certainly isn’t fair so why do we expect it to be? Isn’t this more “our” inability to deal with the inevitability of death? I think so. We don’t always die in the “right” order and this dynamic makes the grief process substantially more confusing and challenging.


I am by no means an expert on grief in any sense of the word. Do I have a tremendous amount of personal, real-life experiences that have shaped my reactions to grief? Yes, that I do possess. I know one thing for sure. I may not know the correct ways to grieve for you but I certainly know, without a doubt, the WRONG ways. The wrong ways are:


*Drinking

*Drugs

*Overmedication

*Poor diet

*Lying or deceit

*Toxic relationships

*Poor sleep

*Lack of exercise

*Too much reflection on the past

*Anger

*Blame


Let me finish with some thoughts on something not yet discussed -our outside reliance on others to cope. I am not referring to getting help from other people or support groups as I do believe they are essential for growth from trauma or grief. Connectivity with other humans is a key and so important for our ability to thrive after grief. Yet, somewhere along my path, I developed an unwillingness to request help or blame someone from the heavens for what has happened to me.


I am agnostic with a belief in god(s) yet I remain “spiritual” by my own definition. Do they exist? I have no clear idea as I have never experienced anything to lead me to commit to any dogma. It would be very easy, at this point in my life, to inject a celestial spiritual entity to guide me through all this chaos. As in Pascal’s Wager, what do I have to lose? Perhaps this is so yet I don't feel I am willing to make any sort of “bet” with my life at this point. Remember, I was a compulsive gambler so I don't bet anymore! That was a joke….


I just haven’t found the need nor do I find the time or desire to blame anyone or anything for what has happened. I know why they died and I am certain I know how to absorb their story into my life. Self-reliance has been a beacon my whole life and I see no reason to change. With this “dependence” on me and only me, I was forced to deal with stuff internally and quickly as I needed to focus on living “in the moment.”


I am not angry, mad or upset at anyone or anything. I have no hate in my heart. Meditation has helped me in that area. I heard someone once say the greatest golfers and the happiest people in the world have one thing in common:

To be successful they both have to have a short memory. Tee it up again.

So true! We spend so much time playing “what if” or “I wish” games that they become counterproductive for growth. Memories and experiences actually have the potential to hold us back, especially in times of grief.


Does being agnostic mean I CAN’T live a healthy, productive, loving and compassionate existence in the midst of such horrendous and untimely deaths in my life. I can and I will. I am living proof of this. Find whatever you need or require to survive and thrive. If believing in a higher power helps you, then you are correct. Who am I to judge? The reason I even bring this up is to show you how I simplify my thinking with the reality of life and death. It isn’t that complicated to be honest. We live and we die. What happens between these two events is mostly up to us.


How do you grieve?


Live Undeterred.


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