The Kubler-Ross theory includes five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Every person does not necessarily experience each stage, nor do they experience the stages in the order listed here. In my novel, As Wide as the Sky, I show grief through those who cycle through the stages, and those who get stuck. When we first confront devastating loss, we mostly want, and need, stability. Denial and bargaining can give us a sense of hope, anger can make us feel powerful, and depression can feel as though we are being loyal to the one we have lost. They are only footholds in the face of a monolith but they often feel more secure than the top we cannot see.
I have lost two brothers to suicide. My first brother, Mike, took his life twenty-three years ago. I can look back over the decades since and see how I moved through the stages of grief an d how each cycle was like finding a foothold a few inches higher than the last. One day I thought of a happy memory of Mike and his death did not crumple the edges. Acceptance didn’t mean that I was okay with his death or no longer missed him, but I had come to terms with that empty place and I found sustaining joy in my life even though he was not in it. It was a good day.
My second brother, Matt, took his life a year and a half ago. One could assume that because I am older, experienced with this specific type of loss, and at acceptance with Mike’s death, I would be healthier in my grief for Matt. I am not. I am angrier with Matt than I ever was with Mike and the anger makes me feel strong. I know better. I wrote a novel about why anger can’t sustain me. I am angry anyway.
I believe that the purpose of life is to grow and learn and make ourselves better. For me, this is a God centered belief, but the application works in practical ways. As we improve ourselves individually we make the world a better place for everyone. I ache to think back on Matt’s life without the crumpled edges caving in. I long for the relief of acceptance and know that anger takes a great deal of energy. I’ve done this before and yet struggle to find my way through it again. Maybe, the start is for me to write about how I feel—words are powerful tools. Maybe that would be like finding a new foothold that will take me slowly toward upward. Acceptance is a destination I don’t think we can recognize until we have cycled through our grief. If that’s right, then I have work to do.
May we all look around and see where we are within the stages of grieving, focus where we want to be next, and find a new foothold to pull us up.
“In the vein of Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes, As Wide as the Sky explores the human component of tragedy.” —Mandy Mikulencak, author of The Last Suppers
“Characters as rich and indelible as the life they endure . . . A phenomenal read.” –Internationally Bestselling Author Davis Bunn
Five a.m.: Amanda Mallorie wakes to the knowledge that her son Robbie is gone. And a new chapter of her own life must begin. She has spent four years as her son’s only support, desperately trying to understand the actions that landed him on death row and to change his fate. Now Amanda faces an even more difficult task—finding a way, and a reason, to move forward with her own life.
Before the tragedy that unfolded in a South Dakota mall, Robbie was just like other people’s sons or daughters. Sometimes troubled, but sweet and full of goodness too. That’s the little boy Amanda remembers as she packs up his childhood treasures and progress reports, and discovers a class ring she’s never seen before. Who does it belong to and why did Robbie have it in his possession? So begins a journey that will remind her not only of who Robbie used to be, but of a time when she wasn’t afraid—to talk to strangers, to help those in need, to reach out. Robbie’s choices can never be unmade, but there may still be time for forgiveness and trust to grow again. For a future as wide as the sky.