Do you live with debilitating chronic illness that has led to significant life changes? If you’re nodding “yes”, most likely you’ve felt a strong sense loss.
But have you experienced grief? I thought about the importance of grieving after reading two articles recently.
The first was a news article about James Levine, the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony Conductor. The other was a post, Self Image and Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis, written by RA Warrior, a blogger.
Although neither article focuses on grief, RA Warrior’s post notes the grief from her changed self image. Maestro Levine has had cancer and back surgery that have led to being unable to work – (“Conducting life and illness”, my post. Now he needs a second scheduled back surgery. The articles about Levine’s surgery focus on more canceled performances and the possibility he could lose his job with the BSO. But I have a hunch this extraordinarily successful man must feel loss – – lost time, missed performances and opportunities and, looking ahead, the possible loss of his life’s work.
In her seminal book on grief, On Death and Dying , Margaret Kubler-Ross identified 5 stages of grieving with each stage necessary to pass through before the next. In my book, Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working, Girlfriend!, (p.78), I describe the role grieving plays in accepting living with illness.
Chronic illness isn’t static. It’s an on-going, ever changing experience. It can mean missing an event, losing a job or being unable to walk on your own. Unlike a permanent loss, such as death, illness goes on living with us, side by side, rarely staying the same.
I’ve found that the challenge over 30 years has been to find a way to grieve and not let that take over my life. I’ve learned to grieve in “contained” spaces. These are the moments that you take to to pay attention to the thoughts and feelings — to notice and listen. That gives the grief room to be heard rather than stuffed nor ignored.
Loss and grief. The former is an event but the latter is what we must do. How do you do it? What works for you?