Say Hello to My Sad Little Friends

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We’re all familiar with the iconic Kübler-Ross five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When you add ’em all up, you’ve supposedly learned how to live with the loved one you’ve lost, i.e. the stupid fuckin’ idiot. That was Anger talking, and since I didn’t want him to have the last word, I thought you may want to hear from all of my sad little friends.

***

Hi, I’m Denial but I’d never admit it. I was the first to hear the horrible news and I coined the phrase “shocked but not surprised.” I remember my survival instinct kicking in and then going numb because that’s what I do best. From the moment we got the call, Rob’s death felt surreal. How could our little boy be gone? I’d wake up each morning thinking that I was still inside a bad dream. Nothing made any sense and I’m not sure how we made it through each day.

I was the first responder—nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. Unfortunately, Larry’s nature only allowed me to hang out with him for about a week.

***

That’s when I took over grieving for the fuckin’ asshole. I’m Anger. Duh! At first, I couldn’t believe what the kid had done—whether it was impulsive, premeditated, who gives a shit?—because any way you slice it, he had to know how much it would fuck us up forever and that made me boiling mad…that he could be so selfish after all we had done for him, after all we had been through together.

And then I raged against the God machine for allowing this tragedy to happen—I believe my exact words were “vengeful motherfucker”—until I remembered that Larry doesn’t even believe in Him.

I tried to stay furious at Rob, I really, really did. I thought it would give us strength. I knew it was a way to stay connected to him, a way to deal with the nothingness of his loss while also expressing the intensity of Larry’s love for the stupid moron. But, goddamn it, I too wasn’t invited to stick around for very long. Which royally pissed me off and still does!

***

Bargaining here. Rob didn’t give me much of a chance to negotiate with him while he was alive, so now I just wheel and deal with Larry’s pain. I’m not as angry as the previous guy or as sad as the guy you’ll hear from next, and I come and go as I please, as most of us do. None of this grief and mourning stuff really follows any pattern. There’s no one size fits all, but I can assure you that everyone pays the steepest price.

I generally work with what some people think is a rather pesky partner named Guilt. All the whys and what-ifs? That’s him! Larry hasn’t figured out a way to show us the door just yet. There’s nothing that can be said or done that can provide relief, but that doesn’t stop him from confronting my irksome colleague, especially late at night right before he falls asleep.

***

Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. That’s about the best joke and transition I can musterCut me a break! I’m Depression, not Rodney freaking DangerfieldI’ve been around from time to time, way before Rob died, way before he was even born, and now I’m here forever. I’m the all-encompassing fog of sadness, the emptiness in Larry’s soul and, as he so eloquently puts it, the space in his heart that will never close.

At the same time, I’ve never felt so necessary in all his life. I’m the biggest—and shittiest—stage of the entire grief mess, but I’m also the most important. That thought would make me happy if I wasn’t so damn sad. I offer no shortcuts in our travels through hell and the pain is unimaginable. As if that weren’t enough, I demand to be endured. I’m the sorrowful music of his heartbreak (composed and performed by Bill Evans), and Larry and I dance alone until the healing begins. At least that’s what the next guy up likes to tell me. I only wish I could believe him.

***

Welcome! My name’s Acceptance and Tom Hanks would probably play me in the movie version of this Kübler-Ross shitshow. So here’s the deal: I was trying to cheer up Depression. He’s such a sad schmuck with all the crying and gloom and doom, but I really meant what I said. I arrived a few months after Larry had been cracked open by Rob’s death, and I’m the true guardian of his soul. I had invited Denial to help ease the pain in the beginning, and then I let Anger take a shot (no pun intended) so Larry could blow off some steam. Bargaining barged in with his annoying partner-in-crime, and those pests have been a bit more difficult to ditch. And let’s just say that Depression and I have come to an understanding.

When Larry talks about being “forever changed,” he’s talking about me. I help him cope with Rob not being here and with recognizing the reasons why he’s not. Like many of his past therapists, I’ve been trying to get him to learn how to sit with uncomfortable feelings. We mainly talk about Rob no longer struggling with his demons and finally being at peace, and how his spirit will live in our hearts forever.

Some people, maybe even you, will often misinterpret my name. I know it sounds kind of hopeful, like maybe he’s finally arrived at this magical new place where there isn’t any suffering. But that place doesn’t exist. I can’t make anything feel okay for Lar because losing Rob will never feel okay. I can, however, help him live without Rob. I have to. And I will. We don’t have any other choice.

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