Image via Wikipedia
In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross describes the five stages of grief which a person facing death encounters as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Kubler-Ross’ model of grief has been expanded over the decades to include general loss and bereavement and additional stages of shock and testing. This more comprehensive model of grief is referred to as the Extended Grief Cycle.
In this blog, I am chronicling my own journey through an Extended Grief Cycle during the past five months.
In my recent post, A Month of Denial, I wrote about last November and the first month of processing my discovery at the end of October that my lover had betrayed me with a long-term involvement with another woman.
Last November was both a month of denial and a month of bargaining. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve chosen to write about each process individually, although they were experienced concurrently.
The denial came first; the bargaining began immediately after. Because I could not believe that my lover had betrayed me in such a callous way, and because his betrayal, deception and lies challenged my belief in what kind of person he was inside, I began to immediately bargain my way out of the situation.
“This can’t be true, there has to be a way out of this.” Whispered the spirit of bargaining to me as I drifted off to sleep, weeping, when I woke up every morning, half expecting his morning phone call.
Of course, my first action was to pray. I prayed and prayed and prayed. This relationship, this man coming back into my life after and absence of eighteen years, had fit perfectly into my understanding of my journey on this earth. With our reunion, I came full cycle. Back to him, the love of my life, my daughter’s father, my soul mate, our ocean town, my longed for beaches, even, spiritually, my relationship with my deceased mother, which somehow became elevated as I developed a close relationship with his mother.
Our reunion had been fated; how could it be undone by something as sordid as another woman? If everything he had told me in the past two and a half years had been a lie, that I was the love of his life, that we were soul mates, that there was a place in his heart empty without me for two decades, that he’d never looked at another woman all this time (unbelievable but apparently true)- if all this were true, then how could he have done this to me? How COULD he?
I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC in late November on the anniversary of our wedding. I lit candles for my mother’s soul at various altars of St. Mary‘s and circled around the perimeter of the back of the church until I came to the altar of St. Jude. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. This was our saint. He and I had always been a lost cause. How then, could we have been so close? Surely our reunion was part of something divine? At that point, I lost it and began weeping. I tucked ten dollars into the collection slot and began lighting candles. Another candle-lighter saw the amount I had donated and saw the tears streaming down my face and said, “God Bless You.” She then touched my arm and repeated, “God BLESS you.”
Her kindness at this point in my life produced a wealth of gratitude inside my heart. I will never forget her face. Where would any of us be in this world without the kindness of strangers?
Another piece of my bargaining process was through my blogging. In swimming through the details and feelings I was experiencing via written language, what I was really saying to myself was, “But this can’t be happening, there must be some way out of this.”
When I was searching for “some way out of this,” I half expected a deux ex machina event. The gods would come down to earth and create a miracle. This was easier to believe than what I really wanted, which was for him to step forward and make it better.
Appealing to him with a written account of our entire relationship, I wrote him two long letters urging him to take the steps necessary to become an honest person and to change his life for the better. Of course, this was never something he was interested in. It was enough for him to hide who he really was from me in the beginning (still, twenty years later, an addict)- and as soon as started figuring out that he’d lied to me and began confronting him about his addictions, he’d simply gone off and started a new relationship with a woman who didn’t mind his habits. (Or so I presume from what he’d told me about her, whenever they were together socially, alcohol was involved.)
The long bargaining process, in retrospect, seems ridiculous. I’d caught him red-handed and confronted him and he didn’t bother to communicate with me in any way about it for over a month.
The reality is that he was glad to be done with me. I’d become the bitch and the nag, just like I’d been twenty years ago, because of his substance abuse issues. I’d even tried drinking with him in the last year of the new relationship, in moderation, to show that I was flexible, but he’d just get mad at me for wanting him to limit his nighttime drinking to two drinks.
At any rate, the bargaining now seems pathetic and childish. But when my heart was broken and hurting so badly, it was natural for me to want to figure out a way to fix it. I imagined far-flung fantasies; he’d borrow or rent a car and show up at my house with flowers begging my forgiveness. Poor, pitiful me, crying myself to sleep wishing for the impossible. I’d gone so far out on a limb to believe in this reunion, to trust him and forgive him and move into the future. I’d rearranged my whole life, my work schedule, time with my children, used my vacation time, only to be with him, and I just could not comprehend that he could be so low as to deceive me for so long and allow me to continue to put so much effort and time into the relationship.
Part of the purpose of the bargaining stage, for me, was a reaction to my inability to do anything to fix the situation. I’d spent my life fixing impossible situations through working harder. All my life, I’d worked two or three jobs to pay the rent, to send my son to summer camp, to replace windows on my falling apart house. I’d stayed up all night with a fussy child, one who did not sleep for years. I’d pushed myself and pushed myself to finish college at 32, get through graduate school, create a department at my new job. But this wasn’t a situation which could be fixed through my effort.
Again, twenty years later, he had chosen his addictions over me. There was nothing that I could do about it then, and there is nothing that I could do about it last November.
I think the bargaining stage helped me to come to terms with the denial because the longer I spent trying to figure out how to fix the situation, through prayer, through writing in my blog, through letters to him, the more apparent it was that I was banging my head against a concrete wall.
“No exit.” Quoth the end of the bargaining to the denial. “No way out.”