Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was the psychiatrist who defined the five stages of grief… Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Her study applied initially to patients who had to cope with illness and dying. However, the stages have been found applicable to anyone dealing with any kind of grief. I used to think that people experienced these stages in order, but upon doing some research I found out that Kubler-Ross later stated that grief doesn’t proceed in a linear and predictable fashion.
About a year ago—when moving back to Mexico became a reality rather than an option—I started experimenting some of these phases because looking back now I can see that I was grieving. Recently, a dear family member passed away, which got me thinking about how we experience pain, and ultimately… change.
Sometimes, when we loose something important to us, denial help us cope with the initial shock we are facing. It somehow keeps us moving through this process. Living in a borrowed reality, even if it’s a pretense, can be a lifeline. When dealing with difficult times, I have personally been guilty of burying my head in the sand in order to keep functioning because otherwise, I think the shock would paralyze me.
Then comes the anger… and justly so. In a world so vast and wide… you had to be the one going through this, isn’t that unfair? But as I have stated previously, life is, unfairly, not fair. But you know what I think hurts more than anger? Bargaining… because it opens a world of possibilities. What if, what could’ve, what should’ve… And bargaining comes hand in hand with guilt. The knowledge that you could’ve done better and be better. That had you made a different decision somewhere back in the decision tree, things might have turned out differently. And to me, this was the most tormentous phase of them all, because I could still taste what could’ve been if I had been more wiser, more patient, more decisive.
But eventually, you come to accept the fact that this is the reality you are living, and perhaps depression comes after or them both could happen simultaneously. And in my eyes, depression can heal wounds you didn’t know existed.
And then, one day, you wake up on the other side. Some day, some how. And inexplicably, you are ready to face the world with a smile again. Sure, it still hurts a bit, your grief left a mark, one that you will bear forever, but you can now start to see the beauty and blessings all around you. And that’s what we hold on to, what should be perhaps the last stage: hope.
This guide has been in the making for over 2 years. It was supposed to be a letter to my little sister when she moved away from home for the first time. It was a time of excitement, uncertainty, and new beginnings. I wanted to share with her what I have learned about solitude in almost eight years of living abroad. Many lessons came in form of arguments, pain, and tears; so, I hope this saves you some of that struggle if you are in a similar situation.
Give yourself a chance to grief. Acknowledge your feelings, and allow yourself to cry, to feel scared, angry, sad, maybe even sorry for yourself. Then choose not to feel that way. As Viktor E. Frankl said, “the last of the human freedoms [is] to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I believe that everything in this life is a choice, happiness is a choice; so choose to be happy, choose not to let sadness ruin this experience for you.
Keep your room clean. Open curtains and windows, make your bed, fold your clothes, and dust the furniture. You will be surprised how big an effect this has on your mood; you are more likely to be proactive, and actually do something, rather than crawling back into bed after school or work. There is also a sense of accomplishment that comes when you clean, so if you want to tackle your entire home, even better! As once I heard said, physical clutter is mental clutter, we want neither.
Keep your mind busy. Whether you pick up that book that has been sitting on your shelf since high school, or you find a new hobby. Keep yourself busy. You are less likely to remember or focus on sad/negative things if you are constantly occupying yourself. Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, or so they say.
It is normal to miss home, but don’t let that stop you from living this experience to the fullest. Learn to be okay with who you are, where you are, and how you are today. You moved to a new phase in your live, EMBRACE it! Believe me when I say: Living in the past will ruin your present. Make a list of things you want to do, places to visit, or experiences to have, and in your free time make it happen. This could be the best time of your life if you let it.Work out your feelings. During the past year I have learned that understanding how you feel takes time, but it’s worth the investment. Many times you will feel angry or sad, only to learn that the underlying feelings are fear or loneliness. Learn to interpret your feelings; talk to someone or write it down. I would have never imagined that writing down my feelings and thoughts would have such a therapeutic and relieving effect. Keep a jornal or write letters, even if you never mail them.
Don’t let your feelings control your actions. Whatever you do, do NOT let yourself give up on something you love because you are having a bad day. We all have bad days, in fact, we all have a few terrible days. When (not if) you have a bad day, do what you can to fix it, find a healthy way to cope with it, and learn from it. What can you do to prevent it? How can you make it better? If there is nothing you can do, that is okay too. Accept it and move on.
Focus on the why, not the what. Why do I do this? Seeing the end from the beginning is not easy, but it will help you keep things in perspective and in turn it will make your burdens lighter and easier to bear. And even if they are not lighter, you will learn to delay gratification. Very often we have to sacrifice something that we want for something that we want more.
Know that it is a choice, not a punishment. I have never been one to say mantras in front of the mirror, but if you are, please consider this one: ‘You are there because you chose to, you wanted to. No one forced you to do it, no one is forcing you to stay. The moment you decide to come back, you can come back.’ This usually helps me realize why I made a decision, and helps me remember that I am in control of a situation, not the other way around.
Remember you are never truly alone. As long as any of us [your family] are alive, you are not alone. Please, please never forget this! Reach out whenever you need to vent, when you have a bad day, or when life gets a bit more than you can handle. I take the F.R.I.E.N.D.S theme song very seriously, so trust me when I say… ‘I’ll be there for you’. More importantly, remember that God is also there for you, just let him in, talk to him, and allow him a chance to talk back.
Remember that nothing is forever. If after cleaning your room, finding new hobbies, writing therapeutic letters, embracing your new life, and seeing the end from the beginning you still cannot find comfort, please remember this: Nothing, absolutely nothing is forever. Your bad days will end, the uncertainty will end, your internship year will end too. For better or for worse this (whatever this is) will end, so it would not bad advice to say, enjoy it. One day you will no longer need to pull all-nighters, or feel so alone that you’ll numb all emotions in order to stop feeling altogether, or be so tired that you can’t decide whether to eat, shower, or sleep. When this day comes you will cherish those days, you will be grateful you had them, because without them you wouldn’t be where you are today.
I’ve been going back and forth on how I should name this post. Though not the most attention–grabber, Coronavirus rightly describes this season in my life. It’s been a strange time… but then again not so. I have always felt comfortable being alone and staying home. In a way, I identify a lot with Eleanor…
I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor – I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else – there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a self-contained entity. That’s what I’ve always told myself, at any rate. -Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
The day after reading this, I could not get out of my mind the phrase self-contained entity. I wanted to understand why this small three words resonated with me. A self-contained entity; an entity that does not depend on anything but its own, that does not need to depend of or exist with anything. While I think that no one can be a self-contained in the true sense of the word, I do believe that for some people is more enjoyable and comfortable being by themselves.
People have coped with this situation differently; it’s brought a lot of anxiety to some people, not knowing when and how we will get out of this situation. It has understandably been a time when holding onto hope has been harder than ever. But thankfully for me, this time hasn’t been as cruel as it has been to others.
I’ve found a renewed interest in photography. Specially in monochrome pictures. I used to think that black and white pictures were sad and boring. But I have been proved wrong. I’ve found that they, in fact, can convey emotions in a way that full–colored can’t.
I’ve tried to make the time to go back to the kitchen. I’ve forgotten how good it feels to eat something you’ve taken the time to mix, knead, or decorate.
I’ve made the time to go back to reading. I have read a few books during this time, Little Fires being my favorite of the year so far. I sometimes forget how much I enjoy reading. I mean… I obviously do, but making the time to do so can be difficult. But when I do make the effort do so, I find myself well-rewarded for it.
While this past couple of months have not been a torture, I do hope that it can soon be over. I do miss ordering apizza on Saturday nights, going to the supermarket in the weekendsand just being able to get together with the people you love.
Loneliness can occur even amid companions if one’s heart is not open to them. -Henry David Thoreau
A couple of days ago I came across this article of a girl who documented every time her parents would wave goodbye to her after she had visited them at their house. It was a really touching article that hit close to home. All of us, at some point, has been waved goodbye by parents or loved ones.
It’s a scary moment… looking back and leaving them behind. Not knowing when you will see them again, if you have the opportunity to have a next time at all. Or equally concerning, knowing what you are separating yourself from. This requires courage and bravery, a lot of each.
And while this made me a bit nostalgic… I also tried to picture the next time they will reunite with each other, either in this life or the next one. What sweet joy it will be. The blessing of coming back to them. Of coming back home.
Being a 90s kid means that by tomorrow I’d have lived in four decades. And yet, there’re still many things left that I need to do. Then again, there are many things that I’ve done that—why not say it?—I feel proud of. So let’s do a major recap…
In 2010 I was in high school, about to start my second semester of sophomore year. I remember how hard I tried to prove that I’d got this. But I so didn’t. I was still trying to navigate what high school was all about, to find the kind of people I wanted to navigate it with, and to find a new balance between a sort of part-time job and school. And, as with most things, in time it happened: I found my people—friends whom I’ve come to grow and experience life with—and I found a way to manage several different responsibilities. Also this year, my oldest sister went away from home. More time was devoted to Skype (because FaceTime was still years ahead) and to Facebook than to any other website in our house. This year I learned that hardly do we see the two sides of people’s lives; just because we usually see the shinny side it doesn’t mean there isn’t a less glamorous one to it.
In 2011, having found my footing, I was more relaxed (if I ever was) and truly enjoyed high school. I understood that you cannot be everything to everyone, and that’s okay. Towards the end of the year, my second oldest sister joined the eldest in Utah and it was hard! It was hard knowing that I had suddenly become the eldest child in the family and that I had to take on responsibilities that were previously unknown to me. This year I learned that your sense of belonging comes from accepting yourself not from finding acceptance in others.
In 2012 I graduated from high school and boy… it was a stressful one. I had no idea what I wanted to major in or where. I was trying to stay home but then, by some inexplicable choice of words that to this day I have no idea where they came from, I turned down a scholarship in my ‘dream school’ to go try med school. Med school worked for a week and a half, and that was that (the thought of this still makes me laugh!). Things were NOT working out for me—but I’m so happy they didn’t (more I this later)—so I started working on my application to BYU. Then in December, I received a letter that would, in every way, change my life… I just didn’t know it then. This year I learned that as long as you can see one step ahead of you, you’re not lost.
In 2013 I prepared to move to Provo, UT. I packed 18 years in one set of luggage. I remember getting on the plane and feeling extremely unsure. I remember not listening to the flight attendant’s safety instructions because I was crying. And just as clearly, I remember the welcome I received at the airport once I landed. I remember going to my first class at BYU, REL121 in the MARB. I remember getting a job, the happiness that I felt, the hard times I had to face, and in the end, the affection I felt for a random group of college kids that had suddenly become my family. I was almost deported and I ended up in the ER. You bet I was SO glad to go back to Mexico for Christmas break. This year I learned in the most tangible way that suffering breathes empathy.
In 2014 I was starting my sophomore year, I had somehow survived my first year of college. This was a year of preparation. I had to start applying to business school, so I worked hard on my extra curriculars. I was inducted to Phi Eta Sigma and I took my first solo-trip to New York. My oldest sister graduated from college and that day I knew with certainty that this dream was possible. Also this year I moved to a new apartment, the apartment that I have loved the most, the one until this day. This year I learned that it’s better to have one hundred rejections than one should have.
In 2015 I received one of those sweet fruits of adversity. I remember very clearly the day I found out I had been admitted to the Accounting Program. I had submitted my application on June 1st at 9 PM after coming home from the gym. Then on June 2nd I went to work, ran to the JFSB to go to my ECON 110 lecture, went to my apartment at around 2 PM, picked up a package from Ulta for my sister, and then… I opened my email. Those who have gone through it would surely agree that it was one of the most mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting things we’ve done, but also one of the most rewarding ones. Teammates became friends, friends became family, the library became home and, without even noticing, endless study hours clumped into days and these into months. And I survived. I think it goes without saying that I received a lot of support, which I can’t properly recognize but that I thank for even to this day. I have actually kept a list of people without whom my degree wouldn’t have been a reality, and I can only hope that one day I can return the favor. This year I learned that whatever accomplishment you have is in no small degree due to people who support you along the way and that when you think you can’t go any further, you take one day at a time. One day at a time.
In 2016 I had to decide whether I wanted to pursue a graduate degree. The decision, believe it or not, was an easy and not so easy one. Even after my admittance to the Masters program, I had moments when I doubted this was the right path for me. But I did it and I don’t regret it. I also moved to D.C.! It was scary being in such a big city. It’s also ironic how alone you can feel being surrounded by so many people. But in time I’ve come to appreciate my time there and the personal growth that came from it. I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful and brilliant man, whom I had the pleasure to call my mentor and the privilege to call my friend. My sister graduated from college and while this year came with its own trials, I was happy to finish it having Christmas with my sister in Utah. This year I learned that sometimes in order to know what you truly want, you need to know first what you don’t want.
In 2017 I had to make some big decisions. Some big plans of mine fell through, I had to deal with some nasty paperwork, my life felt like a mess and I remember the place on the Wilk where, no longer being able to keep it together, I fell apart and started crying. Later that year I had to make one of the biggest decisions a soon-to-be college graduate will make: where to work. Being the indecisive person that I am, of course this was no easy task, but the choice was made. But 2017 also gave me a great friend, indeed a kindred spirit, whom I’ve come to love. From pizza making to yoga classes to her discovering the most OCD things about me, she truly became a life-long friend. This year I learned that God loves me for the things that He has in His wisdom denied me and that the friends you make at college are the real deal.
In 2018 I graduated from college!!! The day finally arrived and it was a bittersweet one. I was extremely happy for I had work countless hours for it and it did require my blood, sweat, and tears… but even then I knew that no other environment in the future, no workplace, no post-education courses, would ever match my college experience. It was a summer of idleness, I had no work, no where to be, no responsibilities. So I took on running and for once in my life I was actively active, if that makes sense. Then… I moved to Texas. Oh Texas! I don’t know if I’ll be able to ever convey with words what you were to me. I can’t deny that you were good to me, I learned a lot about myself, about life, the good and bad, about people, about God… but there was always something missing. And from this I found out that you can move to the center of the world but you cannot run away from your problems. Your challenges will be there with you no matter where you are, until you do something about them. This year I learned that work is a hard master and that I shouldn’t maneuver the ladder of success so wantonly to discover in the end that I had it leaning against the wrong wall.
In 2019 many unplanned things happen. I can say without a doubt that this has been the hardest year I’ve had for several reasons. Beginning in May things just started to fall apart, and it feels like I am starting to get my bearings. June was one HELL of a month. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more desolated and confused before. I had to sell my car, which was no easy quest. I had to pack my life yet again and move back home. I had to say goodbye to a way of living. I had to re-immerse myself again in another country. I had to get a new drivers license. I had to buy a new car, which not surprisingly was no easy quest. I had to find a new job. I had to quit a job. I had to deal with the reality of my choices. I had to find a way to keep on living my life as if things did not change that much. Except that they did and I still catch myself thinking how will I ever make this my new normal. Not one year before this one has had me so excited for a new year. But this time I not only get a new year, I get a new decade! This year I’ve learned that we control the things we can and any effort to do otherwise is useless.
I cannot complain for the hardships I’ve had because I’ve been extremely blessed even in my trials. But I am looking forward to looking back at these events a few years from today with a renewed understanding of the reasons why some of these had to happen. Here’s to 2020, may this be the year of good tithings!
Never act on your emotions. In the long run it will do you absolutely no good to say out loud the thought that crosses your mind when you’ve been insulted or to send the email that your fingers typed while fury clouded your judgement. And just as much, like my sister once wisely said to me, you cannot make long term decisions based on how you’re felling right now.
Always have an umbrella on hand. Whether it is a sunny or rainy day, you can always do with an umbrella.
More often than not, I’ve found that some important decisions have to be made in a relatively short amount of time. Because you want to make the best decisions, you’ve gotta know what you want in life. Granted, you almost never get what you bargained for, but knowing where you are headed sure saves you a lot of grief, insomnia, and tears.
People don’t start in the same place. Be gentle.
At some point, and hopefully sooner rather than later, we all have to reconcile the life we’ve got to the one we would have wanted to have.
Not my words, but it is not productive to recycle regrets. I have heard, in different words though the message is the same, that we are the decisions we make. It has never been more clear to me that each one of us is the sum of all the countless decisions we make every single day, the big ones, the trivial ones, the ones that seem insignificant at the moment but carry more weight than they let on, the ones that we avoid, the ones we omit… It’s hard to imagine but in the end, even the decisions that make us suffer are essential components of who we are.
On people, it will always matter more their character than their personality.
Invest on good clothes that will last for years.
There is power in visualization. On having a visual reminder of what you want in life.
You can learn a lot about a man just by looking at how he acts around his friends.
A sincere smile, a genuine interest, and a heartfelt thank you can go a looooong way.
You have a choice. No matter the issue, no matter the problem you have the power to act on. You choose.
Along with the point above, no one will bear the consequences of the decision you make but you. Good or bad, YOU will bear the brunt or enjoy the sweet fruits of them, so choose whatever will make YOU happy.
Nix death, nothing in this life is irreversible.
There is more truth in the lyrics of Vienna of Billy Joel than in any other song ever written.
We are all fools in love.
Discipline yourself to turn down a short-term gratification for a long-term reward.
Patience is a divine attribute. I wish I had sometimes been more patient. To have the faith and conviction that things will unfold and work themselves out.
The sooner you realize life is unfair, the better. Having said that, life is much better when you look at the kinder side of things.
Not a knowledge but sometimes I wish we could see ourselves as others see us.
I have changed the way I think of ‘a privileged life.’ I used to think, and perhaps for some of people it’s still is, a privileged life is one where the spend is not only sufficient but lavish. However, I have now realized that having a privileged life is far more meaningful that this. It’s having nurturing parents, caring siblings, loyal friends. It’s having a sense of belonging, a known purpose, a place to call home. And I for one, have had one. And for this I am grateful now, as I have been over the years.
There is power in not caring what other people think of you. Dance if you feel like, in the elevator, in the shower, in the middle of a crowded plaza.
You only make a first impression once. Make sure it’s a good one!
Never make anyone feel stupid on purpose.
This too shall pass. Never forget that this too shall pass.
Death and serious illnesses aside, letting go of what is certain is one of the hardest things I have had to deal with so far. Getting to the point when you start your list of lasts is never easy. It is actually a very complex process. Knowing that this is the last time you are doing something, makes an otherwise ordinarily mundane activity onto something beautiful and sacred. Suddenly, being stuck on traffic on your way home feels a bit less burdensome, doing grocery shopping at HEB feels like a pleasurable experience, and jogging around the lake near your house feels like an invaluable privilege.
But how do you get from one point to the other? From mundane and empty to unique and meaningful. And more importantly, how do you cope with it?
There is a thin, almost invisible, line that you cross once you are on a countdown. Is not yet the finish line, but it is the you-are-almost-there line. I believe that during this short stretch, things are made horribly sweet by the impertinence of finishing. You are almost there and then you stop in your tracks and think, This is it, this is what I have been preparing for! But you are not yet ready to let go. You cannot imagine what you are and what you have without the things that got you this far, let alone, what is after the finish line. But the length is so short and you have to keep moving and there is not time to assimilate what is happening, really. So logic goes out the window and you feel every raw emotion in your system. And the smalls joys that you overlooked along the way and the little comfort that some little things brought to your life are magnified. I would not say it is instant and recognizing it can take a few moments, but once you’re there, there is no going back.
So how do you cope with it? Here are my two cents on it… you don’t.
Of course, while you have got to move on, there are very few things I can think that can help cope with the feeling of closing a cycle or saying goodbye. Meg Fee said it best, in life you “forgive the bathrooms you hid in crying, the thought of facing the world outside harder than you cared to admit;” you write thank your notes to clumsily recognize other people’s kindness; you make amends with others, and more importantly with yourself; you give a few heartfelt hugs that hopefully can encapsulate the affection you feel for your people, and then… you move on. Painful as it is, endless as it seems.
So in that moment when you have reached the long-desired and recently-dreaded finish line, all you can do is to take the things that have got you this far, the good and bad, and go into a new race with renewed hope that in this new journey you are about to embark, there will be new things that will propel you even forward. And know that these things of lasts may be gone but the growth, happiness, and memories that they brought to you during this period of time, will stay with you forevermore.
Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional. – Liz Vassey
“The reason that technology so often disappoints and betrays us is that it promises to make easy things that, by their intrinsic nature, have to be hard. Tweeting and trolling are easy. Mastering the arts of conversation and measured debate is hard. Texting is easy. Writing a proper letter is hard. Looking stuff up on Google is easy. Knowing what to search for in the first place is hard. Having a thousand friends on Facebook is easy. Maintaining six or seven close adult friendships over the space of many years is hard. Swiping right on Tinder is easy. Finding love – and staying in it – is hard.”