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The Disorientation of Grief

No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” — C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed”

As a counselor, I know the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. I know that they are not linear stages at all, that you don’t progress from one to the next on a schedule. I know that they are more like cycles and you go back and forth between them. As C. S. Lewis describes in “ A Grief Observed”:

“For in grief nothing "stays put." One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?

 But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?

How often -- will it be for always? -- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"? The same leg is cut off time after time.”

My experience of grief has been so different from the intellectual model of the grief process I studied in graduate school. For there is another cycle or stage of grief that was never discussed in my training: Fear.

Feeling overwhelmed, terrified, panicked, anxious, disoriented, sometimes just merely scared. I am adrift at sea, unmoored and nothing is familiar. It’s my belief that the fear peaks right as we are moving into a new place in our journey of grief. In studying the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies, scientists have measured sound vibrations in glass jars during this process and learned that transitioning from a cocoon into a butterfly is a difficult and painful process. Just as grief is.

When I am feeling fearful, I have found being outside in nature to be helpful and soothing. Seeing trees towering above me, bodies of water, or stars, hearing birds and insects, feeling the sun or rain or breeze on my skin, touching something soft such as a pet or a soft wrap on my wrist, smelling flowers & the outside world, helps to ground me, helps me to feel connected and moored in this unfamiliar place. A buoy to hold onto.

Wishing you comfort and healing,


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