On Death … not Dying {my thoughts on grieving a loved one}

I have experienced the death of a loved one before. Of course, I have. Losing my grandparents comes to mind. Also, I have grieved the loss of aunts and uncles. And family friends. I have even grappled with having to deal with the unexpected deaths of younger people, whether through accident, sickness, or even suicide. But I have not known the struggle of grieving the loss of a loved one due to addiction. Until now.

So. Yes.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross had taught me, in my formative collegiate years, that grieving a death was experienced in stages. Her well-known book On Death and Dying offered a theory that death is dealt with in five stages: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although based upon interviews and patient conversations, rather than true scientific studies, her book was practically the bible in psychology classes when it came to learning how we humans deal with death and the grieving process. Her theory worked for me. I liked it. Why? Because is was nice and neat, seemed linear (one stage followed the other), and best of all, there was an end. Once I made it to acceptance, I would be home free. At peace.

Edit: True, Dr. Kubler-Ross’ theory was originally meant for those dealing with their own death from terminal illness. But her theory was very widely applied as a way to handle the grieving process. They were the go-to words for handling grief all-around, adopted by counselors, and by my 20-something year old self. 

Not so much.

I, Donna Kupetz, might pen my own theory on how humans deal with the death of a loved one who has succumbed to addiction. It would go something like this: indescribable sadness, anger, vomit. Repeat. There are no linear stages, no progression toward acceptance and peace. Dr. Kubler-Ross you lied. I would describe the feelings and experiences of losing my sweet step-brother as being in a hurricane of emotions. Nothing gentle here. Oh, there are times when I find myself numbly existing in the hurricane’s eye for a time. Then whoosh — right back in the slamming, unpredictable storm of ugly emotions.

These feelings grip me. They wash over me whether I am ready or not. They change me.

I find, too, that I am not just trying to make sense of this grief process regarding Robbie’s death. I am aching terribly for my dad and Bridget. Dad and Bridget are two of the most loving, generous, committed parents I know. How do they go on? How. I keep telling Bridget to take my strength from me. And I know well that my dad will give her every ounce of his strength, too. But my dad. He is a funny, strong, positive man. He is my rock in so many ways. But things are different now. I am his rock.

I cannot say at this time that Dr. Kubler-Ross’ grief theory is serving me well in struggling with these awful circumstances. Nope. It’s not. I must reach deep into my own reserves and pull out what works for me. Ugh … I wonder what might be? Two things that come to mind are faith and time. Faith is very powerful; it is also very personal. To me it is also very healing. And secondly, I do believe that time is a healer. Not an eraser, a healer.

So, I will start there. As I am writing this post, and as I reflect upon these sad circumstances in my life, I am crying, and I am angry, and I am nauseous to a degree. Yep, it’s all there. And I am drawing on my faith and strength reserves, and I am sending them all to Dad and Bridget. And I hope that you, my readers, can rely on your faith and find the eventual peace you seek if ever you find yourself in the unbelievable happenstance of losing a loved one to addiction. ❤


2 thoughts on “On Death … not Dying {my thoughts on grieving a loved one}

  1. Ken Seegar says:

    You are angry! That’s the stage you are in. Anger. Perfectly normal anger. Bordering on rage, but anger none the less. The question is “What are you angry about?”
    Your brother getting caught up in addiction?
    Your inability to see the signs?
    Your helplessness as you watched him grapple with his demons?
    Your anger that he did not grapple with his demons?
    The “friends” who got him hooked?
    Your inability to help him get out of addiction?
    There are a thousand things that you can be angry about right now. All of them are valid and all of them are pulling at your heart and your mind. Acknowledge their presence. Sit with them. Hold them close. And then begin to deal with them, understanding that, with addiction as with most things in life, there is very little an “outsider” has control over. This was Robbie’s fight. Once you begin to deal with the anger, the you will begin to understand. Then you will be able to forgive. And that forgiveness will be the path to healing for you and for your family.

    Your step-brother’s death was a tragedy of the highest proportions. A senseless tragedy that could have been avoided if only…. or so we think. There are times in life when, even with the best of intentions, we discover there is nothing we can do but surrender to God and put all things into his hands. Only he can make sense out of the senseless.

    As for Kubler Ross— her work with the dying and their grieving families provided the framework for understanding the grieving process. Yet, even she admits that the process is neither linear nor simple. We move in and out of the stages for as long as we grieve. And there is no set time for grieving. It doesn’t have to be over in a month, or a year, or twenty years. Each person deals with loss differently. The point Elisabeth was making in her work is that it is important that we recognize that there are stages, that we have to work through the stages, and that eventually we come to the point of accepting the loss and moving on. Do we ever forget? No. Is the hole in our heart ever healed? Not really. But it is by those scars that we show our love for the people who have touched our lives.

    I continue to pray for you and your family. Your picture is hanging over my computer so I see you every day! I pray for Robbie too. May he find the peace that eluded him in his short time on earth. May you and your family also find peace in the midst of this tragedy. Know that I am here for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. donnasmicherko says:

    Fr. Ken, thank you for these kind, loving, sensible words. Of course, you always know what to say to help me. 🙂 We have a bond. Yes, there is much anger that I have to deal with. I will take one day at a time, and I will rely on faith, prayers, and love to give me strength. ❤


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