The movie Demolition follows a man after the death of his wife. The only place where he feels comfortable to explore his grief is with the customer care service of a small vending machine company. In the company of her emotionally troubled son, they unpack (demolish) his life that seemed so “together” before his wife died. Uncomfortably real, it reminded me that there is no singular way to go through the grief process. The stepped approach is too simple to contain the extent of brokenness one experiences during these moments of crisis.
On death and dying
Elen-Kubler Ross compiled a book describing the common experiences of people with e.g. terminal illness facing certain death. She highlights five stages of the grief process, but highlights that these stages a) commonly overlap and b) do not necessarily occur in this order:
- Denial: The diagnosis is false (“The doctor made a mistake”) and the person clings to a false preferable reality
- Anger: As reality starts to settle in, a person may lash out at the ones closest to them in frustration (“Why me, it’s so unfair!”)
- Bargaining: To avoid death, a person may make promises to alter their lifestyle (“I promise I will be a nice person, just don’t let me die!”)
- Depression: Recognizing their mortality, a person may become withdrawn and hopeless (“What’s the point, I’m going to die anyway!”)
- Acceptance: Having come to terms with their mortality, a person may present as emotional calm while they prepare for death.
Grief has many faces
These stages of grief have been extended to ALL scenarios where a person encounters the crisis of grief: your own death, death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, loss of health (e.g. finding out that you are HIV+ or have cancer), a break up, etc. Many people can’t relate to these stages of grief. Questions like “If I didn’t cry at the funeral, does that mean I didn’t love him?” or “I feel relieved, does that make me a bad person?” highlights that grief does not comfortably fit into a singular 5 step model. This is what made Demolition so meaningful. What a relief to know that there is no “right” way to grieve. At least there is one less thing to beat yourself up about in the midst of such brokenness.
Brokenness doesn’t last forever
The Japanese art-form called “Kintsugi” provides a beautiful illustration of the beauty that can come from brokenness and pain. The artist collects all the pieces from the broken pottery and mends it using a golden resin. This not only accentuates the pot’s flaw (previous brokenness), but also adds to the pot’s beauty and value. This reminds us that while grief is devastating and will probably leave a mark, brokenness can be made beautiful and meaningful again.
Where do you feel broken? What pieces have you lost? Would you like to talk about it?