Stage One: Staring Out the Window
The first stage of grief begins immediately after you realize loved ones have flown up from Florida to be with the dying person. It is a little known fact that when death is anticipated, grief begins before death occurs. This stage involves going to work and acting like everything’s fine, but staring out the window at nothing in particular while doing nothing of consequence at your job. Symptoms include clicking back and forth between tabs on your computer, and continually checking your Facebook to see if any of your family members have posted something new since this morning.
Stage Two: Hysterical Weeping
Because death is anticipated, an overwhelming sense of futility and hopelessness takes over. You want to share your anger with the world, but the only Facebook status you can come up with is “Fuck Cancer” and it doesn’t seem appropriate. Instead you go home to your apartment and hold your phone up in front of your boyfriend so he can read the text message you got from your sister. He needs to hear the news but you can feel the tears pooling inside of you and you know if you tried to explain it with your own voice the message would dissolve into howling.
Weeping begins slowly in the kitchen before moving to the couch. You want to say a lot but your words feel callous because rather than dwelling on your own relationship with the dying man, you’re flooded with a sense of cosmic injustice. There is something objectively terrible about what is happening. He has five kids and a loving wife and the whole family has been through so much already. Each suffered through a divorce. They’ve seen death and abuse and for years there was no light in her eyes until he came along and they only had seven damn months of marriage before cancer came to take it all away again.
Stage Three: Distracting Nostalgia
After an hour of crying you realize that you can’t keep this up all night, and you pick a movie off the shelf that you used to love. It’s a superhero film and it’s more than a decade old. It’s nice to see practical effects for a change but you remembered being more impressed with the film back in high school. When it’s over you put the DVD back in the case and put the case in the box of stuff headed for Goodwill.
Stage Four: Memory Flashes
You ruminate on the last time you saw him, and the time before that. You remember hearing how one doctor said he had no hope, and another said this cancer would never kill him. For some reason you remember that day in stage combat class ten years ago. You were practicing how to safely drag a person across the floor. The teacher told you that as the victim you were supposed to look like you were fighting against it while actually helping your partner calmly pull you to the other corner. Fighting on the outside while internally accepting the inevitable.
Stage Five: Death
You’re at work when you get the message that he’s gone. His wife and kids were there, so were his parents and her parents. You don’t cry this time, but you briefly revert back to Stage One and stare out the window for the next 20 minutes.
Stage Six: Shower Crying
You realize that if you cry in the shower there’s no mess and no one can hear you. Your shower is long and you waste a lot of water and you don’t care.
Stage Seven: Bridezillas
You eat chocolate chips and watch people be awful to each other.
Stage Eight: Sad Cleaning
You ferociously clean your desk and the surrounding areas because at least it’s something you can do. You cleaned the living room just six days ago, so nothing’s actually dirty. You choose to vacuum the same patch of carpet over and over again, imagining that if you do it enough now you won’t have to do it ever again.
Stage Nine: Detachment
You sit down and write down 600 words of how you’re feeling. You put it in the second person in the hopes that maybe it didn’t really happen, and it’s just an abstract idea you once had. No one died today. There’s no 11-year-old girl who just lost her dad. There are no funerals to attend and no phone calls to make. Thanksgiving will be the same as always. There are no empty seats at the table.