I was sitting at home, reading a romance/mystery book (okay, it was Nora Roberts) and in the middle of a passage about a hostage negotiator I was suddenly hit with a wave of sadness that almost brought me to tears: I missed Toby. The pain was sharp and raw and fresh and seemed to come from out of nowhere. How, after nearly three years, can I still feel such intense pain that it takes my breath away?
Hospice calls this a “grief spasm.” A grief spasm is an “intense, sudden spurt of emotion that can last just a few minutes or maybe a day, and are very common during the grieving process.”
I think the keyword there is “process.” Grieving is a process. And, from my unofficial research and experience, it’s not something that ever completely goes away. Grieving isn’t something you go through for a little while with hopes that one day it will work itself out. Grieving isn’t something that you move on from. Grieving, unlike depression which can be improved upon with time and counsel and even medication, is a lifelong commitment.
It makes sense that the stages of grief are not so much a linear line or a circle as they are a five point star. You don’t work your way through the stages in hopes of reaching a cheery outcome at the end. You don’t work through the stages of grief, reach the last one (acceptance) and say, “Well, that’s over, I feel much better now!” Oh no. The stages never really go away for good. You can bounce from one to the other, going from depression to anger and then back to denial for a little while. You can reach acceptance and stay there for a long time and head right on back over to anger. The stages might not last long and may be fleeting, but you never really get out of the web.
With that in mind, grief spasms make a lot of sense. If we’re always in the grieving process and it never really ends then the spasms are understandable. They are simply reminders that we’re still hurting, we’re still in pain no matter how well-adjusted we are and how far we’ve come.
I haven’t felt the push of pain or depression or sharp edges of grief in a long time. The stupid and insensitive things that people say rarely bother me anymore. I’m able to talk about SIDS and my son’s death in a clinical way, detached. I can look at the INSIDIOUS 2 movie poster (an image of a baby in a walker with the words “It will take what you love most”) and find it incredibly distasteful and disturbing but it doesn’t make me go into a panic or tear me up like it might have at one time. I’m not an overprotective parent and I no longer check throughout the night to make sure my children are still breathing. In many ways, I have come a long way.
But, the pain is still there. There is still a rawness to it that I can’t ignore and sometimes it does take my breath away and hit me like a ton of bricks.