A friend died. It was sudden, unexpected and inexplicable. It sent shockwaves through our families, who have strong ties.
Her great grandmother and my grandfather were siblings. Her father, Piero, and my father are close friends. Here in Italy, we share the hillside where our ancestors were born. Piero turned my grandparent’s old stable into a lovely cottage, a weekend retreat for the family. We keep the old Osteria from falling down. Fiorenzo and Piero are a good team up there. They work well together, keeping the grass low and the woods safe. It’s a beautiful place. That’s where it happened.
We’re reeling with grief.
I can’t imagine the pain of her family, her intimate circle.
I can’t touch upon that of her close friends and collegues, her social groups, the people who saw her every day and shared the years.
We didn’t have that kind of relationship. Our connection was that of two families with strong ties, who share a hillside, and a bit of history, and every springtime and summer, a carpark where we’d chat and catch up while our dogs barked like mad. This is how I’ll remember Francesca: in shorts, a singlet top and walking shoes, healthy and tanned, her huge smile and loving eyes.
We’d catch up, and then she’d head off up the hill to their cottage. Peace. Nature. A little bit of paradise. Maybe her father would be up there, or her sons. Maybe she’d spend time on her own.
So, no, I can’t claim closeness. But the grief is intense, and what hurts is the whole of it. It’s like some great collective weeping when I think of the sadness all around. Knowing that my father’s shoulders are heavy and his tears are streaming for the suffering of his friend. Knowing that my mother can’t think of anything else. For my brother, trying to get his head around it. For my sisters, reaching out, for our mutual friends.
It’s an overlapping of pain. An expansion, an implosion, a wave. It’s mine and it’s everyone’s, all at the same time. A community of grief that can’t alleviate the suffering, but wants to, and this, somehow, is comforting.
Ah, yes, it hurts, this loss of our friend.
This springtime and summer will be… different. We’ll sit on our hillside and look down on the valley as we’ve always done, but it’ll be different. Day by day, we’ll come to terms with our loss, and choose our memories.
The 5 Stages of Grief and Loss
By strange coincidence, a few days before Francesca’s death, I’d been reminded of the “5 Stages of Grief” as proposed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying (1969). Through her work with terminally ill patients, Kubler-Ross observed that people typically confront the emotional states of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as they come to terms with their death.
Over the years, the “5 Stages of Grief” model expanded to include not just one’s own death, but any significant personal loss. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job or home, the end of a relationship or divorce, for example, can trigger this mix of emotions.
In her later life, Kubler Ross regreted that she’d used the term “stages” which imply a linear and progressive journey and result in a state of completion. People process things differently.
Matthew Remski, the author of the book I was reading, chose the term “response” rather than “stage”.
“Kubler-Ross’s term is “stages”. I’m using “responses” here because the claim that grief follows a staged and orderly arc is contested in clinical psychology, and because the model of stages suggests that those who move through more of them are either more mature or more healed”.
The model has been criticised for it’s lack of empirical research and for being culturally specific.
But, nonetheless, it has persisted and continues being referenced, which seems to indicate that people – at least of our own place and time – find truth in it, and reassurance as they deal with difficult emotions.
In the hours after hearing about Francesca’s death, I saw clearly how my body/brain had in fact swirled into and through denial and anger. Then – not so much bargaining – but questioning: What could we have done differently? Was there something that we didn’t notice, anything we could have done?
As I write this now, I’m depressed, and so sad. It’s okay. I know that it’s right and natural to feel this way. It’s part of the process, and it’ll shift into acceptance in it’s own good time.
Moving towards that place will be like summertime in our hills: there’ll be sunshine, rainbows, and storms.
Free Printable: The 5 Stages of Grief and Loss, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
The book I was reading was Practice and All is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics and Healing in Yoga and Beyond, Matthew Remski, 2019.
More About Healing
And then this friend said to me, over coffee, ‘You need to forgive.’
‘What?’. Oh man, I’ve done so much forgiving. ‘Who?’
‘You need to forgive yourself,’ he said. ‘For being powerless in this situation.’
Stop. Right. There. Like, what, in the name of God, does that mean?Healing and the Art of Self Acceptance
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