the washing machine of grief

Forget the seven stages of grief, it’s old news, too formulaic, and not representative of the experience.

The seven stages supposedly go like this: shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, reflection and loneliness, The Upward Turn, reconstruction and working through and finally, acceptance and hope. It’s a tidy notion, and I like tidiness, I like it almost as much as like Diet Coke (in a can, not a bottle). If only the Seven Stages were true.

Years before my little sister died I looked up this stages thing. With her mental illness and suicide attempts, and all my waiting for a phone call, I thought I could prepare myself. In fact, and this is thoroughly stupid now I’m here, I thought I had begun my grief. I considered I was at Stage Four.

Three days after Libby died, I sat in the café that I’d written my first novel in and tried to get back to the next book, situation normal, make normal come, I’m aiming at normal, type type type. I drank a coffee, cried into my jacket and wrote this.

seven stages of grief poem

What the fuck?!


Fucken hell bastard motherfucker shit

Fucken hell.

Oh, fuck.


Well, fuck.

On reflection, when I wrote that, with all that swearing to show me, I was at Stage One. Last week I was at Stage Seven – peace, ‘it’s meant,’ I’d said. Tuesday I was at Stage One. In the shower I’m trying to make myself believe she is gone – a year and a week and a day after her passing. Seven, one, one, one, seven, one, peppered of with the coarse mutterings of stage three.

Actually, we’re living in circles. Small circles – breakfast, lunch, dinner – and bigger ones – autumn, winter, spring, summer – and big, big circles – birth, life, death. We put up our to-do lists and cross off the same items over and over. Not because we’re not doing them (yes, occasionally, we’re not doing them) but because they bob up again and again; the small items of life recur with a frequency that is both astonishing and comfortable.

This is what I have learned:

You gotta look at grief like it’s a washing machine – churning, wet, twisting, dirty, round and round and round we go.

On Monday I had a brilliant day. I had a coffee with a friend in a local café, the guy in that place must be wondering what on Earth is in the water, eight times out of ten, I cry in that place. But it’s casual and if people notice they leave you alone with it. So we had our coffee, I had my cry, and we invented a new coffee called an El Gaupocinno – Kahlua, Baileys, coffee, milk. That’s right, I am practically teetotal and here I am drinking at ten a.m. on a Monday morning. My friend cried, I cried, (it’s another blog post), and words like acceptance and meant and joy were said.

‘Yeah,’ I nodded, ‘acceptance.’

That afternoon, it was cold – seven degrees – and it was wet, not hard rain, that soft consistent kind, and me and Hilda hit the trail. I started at the top, rode down to see Libby, said hi, take photos, it was cold and my fingers didn’t want to work. Colder than my visit of two days ago, I bailed and rode back up the hill.

Acceptance. No turmoil. No hard feelings. Freedom. See it, feel it, touch it, be in it.

Tuesday. I wake up and I’m unmotivated, sad, I’m blaming my hormones but my period doesn’t come. I stay in bed. Tuesday turns into Wednesday and I’m still crying, missing Libby. I’d love to be alone. I see my counselor and within a minute I’m off. We concentrate on the crying. How does it feel? Harsh. Tall. Where do you feel it? My throat. What colour is it? I think I said purple-black. Sit with it. Make peace with it. The lump softened, the colour faded, I could see that on other days other, days of acceptance, the pain might be white.

So the washing machine. Grief is meeting yourself, meeting yourself and meeting yourself. It’s as if you can see yourself on the sidelines and you can wave at yourself, there I am crying, there I am laughing. Pain, joy. Joy, pain.

Grief ain’t linear.

You don’t get to put a line through a stage. What you do get is knowing that the tears you cry today may give way to smiles tomorrow may give way to anger the next day and acceptance will be back when it gets back from the shops.

Learning you can count on.

You’ll never be safe from the ambush of a favourite song, a school yard smell, the uncanny way her partner says hello in exactly the same way she did. But after a while you can like the ambush. Sudden tears, flashes of joy, silence, they mean something.


purple socks, Platypus Rock and peace

3 thoughts on “the washing machine of grief

  1. Wow. This is such a strong, raw, and haunting post. You are so right, grief is in now way linear or neat and tidy. Your post is perfect. Big hugs from the other side of the earth.

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