These days, no one can shed a tear without someone mentioning the five stages of grief. I’m convinced that when people sit with the bereft, they bring up the stages just so that they can have something to say. Anything is better than the delusional denial, the bitter anger, the useless bargains, the hopeless dejection, and the maudlin acceptance that grievers come up with. Anything is better than the silence of the dead.
The problem with five stages of grief is that people skip stages, take them out of order, syncopate the rhythm, drop out of grief, and generally screw up the process almost every time. Except it’s not really them screwing up, it’s the model, I say. Mourners have enough to worry about, they don’t need a well-meaning, busy-body chasing after them with a chart saying, you skipped a stage; you’re supposed to be in despair.
Don’t laugh, it happens. Counselors’ schedules are filled with clients who were sent to them by people who thought they did not grieve enough, or in the right way.
In the interest of science and the advancement of my profession I have developed a new model that even Kübler-Ross would approve of: The Gumbo of Grief.
Grief is more like a gumbo than a Powerpoint presentation. The basis of grief is a thick, shadowy broth. Out of this broth, you never know what you’re going to spoon up next. You’ve got your standard ingredients, the five inventoried by Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; but, just as most Cajun cooks will throw whatever they have in the refrigerator into their gumbo, the Gumbo of Grief also contains whatever is close at hand.
Some add a little alcohol to their Gumbo of Grief; a lot of alcohol. Bottles seem to make the perfect attendees to grief. Like Jews making a Shiva call, they do not speak unless spoken to, bring sustenance to the event, and have the good sense to not promise resurrection.
Grieving over one thing has a tendency to bring up other things you have to grieve about, like those thrifty cooks that always keep a soup on the back of the stove, adding leftovers after every dinner, pulling dippers for every lunch. Grieve long enough and you will remember every loss you ever had. All your usual unresolved issues will make an appearance, even some that didn’t seem appropriate for the occasion.
I believe no one grieves without also coming face-to-face with his or her own death. This is the spice in the Gumbo of Grief: an awareness of mortality. Yes, grief adds spice to your life. You become aware that you only go around once, so grab for all the gusto you can, for there is no wisdom or strength in the grave, where you are going.
So, that is the Gumbo of Grief. No one orders this dish from the menu, but if it is placed on your table, eat heartily, it can be very nourishing.
This article was adapted into a chapter of my novel, Intersections.