In her book Death and Dying (1969) Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, hypothesized the five stages of human grievance. She displayed a series of survivor mechanisms and reactions, which we use to cope in grievous situations of irreversible or nearly irreversible grades or hopeless events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, terminal illness, etc.
Dr. Kubler-Ross observed in terminally ill patients that the earliest stage is Denial, in which traumatized people refuse to accept the new reality whether consciously or subconsciously. We often say, “That can’t be happening to me!” The emptiness that is created inside one’s self after the loss often leaves us vulnerable to indigestible resentment. Anger builds up to fill the emotional emptiness as we try to climb up back the depth of the disaster, hence bringing forth the second stage called Anger.
At the stage of anger we are overwhelmed with feelings of injustice and blame. We can be angry at family, friends, health care providers, ourselves or even God. “I understand the ultimatum, can I buy more time,” we might say. This brings us to the third stage called bargaining.
During bargaining stage we begin to plead our way up. Our resentful feeling is bumped once again as if our forceful and angry climb up to sanity has done nothing good. So we begin to plead. In this stage we provide ourselves with unreal yet desperate healing, superficially covering the wound while inside we are filled with guilt that eats us up from inside out. This continues to grow into a bigger hole.
As our shock absorbing emotions stop revolting, our breaks slam at the bottom of it and we hit depression. At this stage nothing else matters, not even the simplest gesture to cheer us up. We might say, “Why bother I’m gonna die anyway!” When our pleading comes to an end we reach the last stage of our grievance, acceptance, it is going to be ok. It’s a real sense of realization of the finality of the tragedy. In my opinion it’s a willful surrender. Dr. Kubler-Ross also noticed that we might interchangeably skip, or linger to each stage from one stage to the other.
With my medical background and humane sense, I completely agree with this emotional display. Time heals all wounds they say. Although true, it might leave us with scars that hide in us deeply entrenched lacerations. The surface we climbed back up to is not the same as the one we fell from, bearable yet lamentably bitter, we accept it.
I might neither surrender to the finality of death, nor arrogantly oppose it, but here’s the good news: as a believer in Jesus Christ who himself walked into humanity, from nativity till the fullness of glory, death itself adamantly failed to become his finale. While being human, Jesus suffered the utmost pain, injustice, and malice that anyone could imagine. Drenched in sweat and blood He pleaded His Father to make this cup pass over him, yet He obeyed to the point of death on the cross. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me,” Jesus said while he was emotionally realizing the depth of his suffering, trying to absorb what was going on despite that he prophesied it earlier. It’s real now. It didn’t take Jesus a life time to climb back from bitterness. Father, into your hand I commit my spirit – Jesus says.
To me Jesus showed more than acceptance in the fashion of hopeless surrender, not only that he obediently subjected himself to God, but it was indeed his supreme trust in the power of God to resurrect him, lifting him and bringing him forth to life, and sitting him on the righteous right hand of glory due to his name. This is the same kind of trust we need today.
As we partake today in Christ’s suffering we also partake in his Glory. The word tells us in 1 Peter 4:13 the same cup he partook on His faithful journey toward the fullness of Glory at the bosom of the Father, is still ushered to us as his disciples, followers, and the sheep of his pasture.
What a joyful hour when Godliness and humanity were entwined, heaven and earth reconciled, the veil was torn, death, and our finality have come to an end. Jesus indeed died for man’s suffering and he lived so that death may die! This truth itself encourages us to take comfort and to unlimitedly trust in him, He who rose from the dead is able to raise us too.
Every bit of Jesus’s life and resurrection gives us a tangible hope to fill the gap that is created in us through suffering. Believing enough, humbly seeking and owning enough of the spirit that resurrected the Christ who himself owns life, will give us life in Christ too.
I agree with Dr. Kubler-Ross that willful surrender might sometimes be our best to offer. We can’t add more despite the efforts we muster or the discipline we show. The grace of God, his priceless free gift, that’s been prepared for us before the dawn of creation and made manifest in Christ is made available to us by faith. It is this grace that is going to lift us up on a gloomy day. Trusting in Jesus is not mere words; it’s actually from life to life. Trust is exactly what we need to change our willful surrender to glorious victory; in him we are over-comers.
Acceptance: Accepting ourselves doesn’t guarantee victory rather it numbs the pain, and time heals the wounds. Accepting Christ on the other hand, doesn’t only help us embrace our past, but gloriously live our future. The power of his spirit flows like rivers of regenerated life in us. Therefore let us live in hope, with supplication and prayers for Him who died for us so we might have life, through the power of his resurrection. He will turn our mourning into dancing, our sadness into joy, both now and forever.