Friday, August 5, 2011

The Wheel of Grief

Some days are just sad. And today is one of those days. It has nothing to do with work or family. Or in my case, the weather, which usually has a huge impact on my mood; it's a beautiful day in New England today. I can still be productive, engaging, and responsive. But silently, often surprising me, the tears will collect in the corners of my eyes, tempting gravity.

Was it the contentious meeting yesterday that prompted this unsettling feeling? Was it the thought of talking to my insurance company again in order to resolve a year-long billing problem that has suddenly dragged me down? Or was it driving home through Concord Center last night, stopping at the crosswalk while a mature woman and her elderly mother were crossing the street? Yes, that might have been it.

I was so envious of the two of them. I imagined they were just walking back to the car from dinner out at Helen's, a diner-type restaurant in the center of town. I went there with my mother too, what seems like a million years ago. And I'll never be able to do that again, with my mom. So yes, I was envious. And angry. And it surprised me. It made me think about the stages of grief, and wonder, just where the heck am I now in those stages, more than a year later?

So I looked through all the handouts I obtained from my support groups (yes, all 3 of them), and all the books I ordered online. I decided the 5 stages of grief don't really fit me anymore. The first 4 are bad (#4 is especially bad, and long, the big D – depression) and the last step, #5, is: OK, deal with it and move on. I think I've been at this stage for a little while now. It doesn't seem logical, to me, to step backwards from step 5 to step 4 (although my grief counselor said people experience grief differently), so I decided to look for another definition of grief.

On a side note, we haven't sold the house on Martha's Vineyard yet, and the article in the Wall Street Journal the other week actually confirmed my mood. Take a look at the image from the article and tell me you don't see the irony:

WSJ: The other market is still very much in crash mode. In places like Miami, Fla. and even Martha's Vineyard, Mass., prices have continued to drop as foreclosed properties flood the market. But bargains abound as sellers cut their asking prices or accept less to unload properties.

So, back to grief. Online, I found a grief wheel. To me, that even sounds funny since it reminds me of Wheel of Fortune. I can just imagine Vanna standing up on stage in her sequined gown and long tresses pointing out the depressing categories on the Wheel of Mis-Fortune. These, too, can occur at any time, in any order (isn't that comforting?). But somehow, in my opinion, it seems more organic to show them in a circle.

  • Shock.
  • Emotional release.
  • Depression, loneliness and a sense of isolation.
  • Physical symptoms of distress.
  • Feelings of panic.
  • A sense of guilt.
  • Anger or rage.
  • Inability to return to usual activities.
  • The gradual regaining of hope.
  • Acceptance as we adjust our lives to reality.

Now this is a visual I can relate to. I still remember my favorite class in elementary school when we were allowed to make our own color wheel out of acrylic paints. And then again, in college studying graphic design, we had to make a color wheel out of Pantone sheets. Oh, the days when you could accomplish something so simple and so beautiful – so easily.

Maybe this weekend I should make another color wheel, using my mother's watercolors, and then write these stages on it. Then I could spin it daily, and spend ten minutes meditating on wherever it points. That would be a very rational and systematic way to think about grief. Force myself to go through all the stages completely. Would that accelerate me through the grief wheel faster? I doubt it. Writing this blog helps, as do the kind and hysterically funny words today of my friends, Adam and Frank. So things are looking up. And I'm hopeful – no I'm certain – that I'll be a different color tomorrow.


  1. Great post, Sarah. Hang in. I totally agree that grief is experienced differently by different people. In fact, I'd say it is a completely individual experience for each of us (with each loss, as well).

  2. The one thing I always noticed is that sometimes all it takes is one call, one note or something else that suddenly changes the mood for the better.

  3. This site is look so nice.. Wheels Miami

  4. Blessings on your journey, Sarah. I love your Grief Wheel picture. I see that journey in my own life. New mercies every day.

  5. As a fellow 'middle aged orphan', I know how you feel. I lost my Dad last year, and I miss him. Setting up the Genealogists for Families project in his memory has helped me a lot.

  6. I couldn't agree with you more Judy. I'm so sorry about your dad. The whole idea that it gets better is just bunk, as my mother used to say. I will check out your blog tonight. I just joined Geneabloggers this week and am excited to work my way through the list of very interesting blogs.

  7. Sarah ~ I cannot tell you how much your post described my feelings, days, and process of the loss of my mom too. I think I am at that "anger, panic, and depression, isolation" stage, or is that all of them! Each day is different. I am so sorry for the loss of your mom too, we both lost our mom's at the same time . . . only weeks apart . . . it still feels like yesterday, I still want to pick up the phone and call her . . . that's when it hits me the most. Thank you for your lovely comment on my blog. I can totally relate too. I like the idea of your "Wheel of Grief" makes total sense. Thank you for a wonderful post.