Lesson Learned (June 17)


100 stress points clobbered me May 17, 2021, when the love-of-my-life Araceli Ganan Almond died.

Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe created the Social Readjustment Rating Scale to measure the impact of major life events. They rated the death of a spouse as causing the most drastic adjustment in an individual’s daily life. In the scale, a spouse’s death carried 100 life change units on a scale of 0 to 100.

Of course, this becomes my lesson learned. Araceli and I shared a wonderful life together for over 45 years filled with pleasant memories, so as I process my grief I will be alright, but I must listen to my body, mind and soul. Grief cannot be hurried.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, came to West Virginia during my busy years practicing medicine. She gave me a lesson I have never forgotten. As a pioneer in near-death studies, and author of the internationally best-selling book, “On Death and Dying,” she discussed her theory of the five stages of grief.

Clinically I used her model for a generation, helping West Virginians work through their grief. Now this is my turn to do the hard work of grieving. Actually, not to grieve can be fatal, as unresolved grief leads to heart attack and stroke as in a “broken heart.” It can also lead to accidents and distractibility which make work and driving hazardous. Not to forget depression and anxiety, which are weighty symptoms with which to live. Suicide occurs at a higher rate in those with unresolved grief.

The five stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—are a part of the framework that I must now work on with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. They are tools Dr. Kübler-Ross taught to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. There is no timetable for grief. I have talked to parents who have lost a child 20 years ago who feel the pain is as if it were yesterday. Yet, grief work must be tackled.

There may be somebody reading this who does not feel the pain of loss—but remember denial is the first stage.

To judge by anger in our culture, one could surmise we are living over-burdened by grief. Friends have already counseled me not to be too hard on myself. They tell me I took good care of Araceli, but I can ponder about that and berate myself.

Bargaining is a third stage of grief. My clinical medical experience tells me we spend way too much of our resources on intensive care when our loved one is already dying. Preventive Medicine is not paid enough mind. Exercise. Diet. Sleep. All these in moderation will keep us healthy and lengthen lives.

Depression is the fourth stage of grief. Life is hard, so we all need to encourage one another more. Actually, Buckhannon is a very caring community. I have been sustained emotionally during my deep, dark times following Araceli’s death by a pat on the back, a supportive FaceTime or a prayer fitfully spoken.

Finally, if the grief work is pursued faithfully, then acceptance comes. Right now, I cannot even imagine accepting Araceli’s death, but I do trust Dr. Kübler-Ross’s five-step process, so I get out of bed and put one foot in front of another as I face these days without my “Honey Bun”!

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