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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 44: Stages of Grief: Depression

We're back to the DABDA model, for its fourth component....depression.

In case you're just joining us, DABDA was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, to give a framework for the grieving process. While not all people experience the stages in the same order...and not all people even experience all the stages...the most common progression is denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

So here we are with depression, and yeah...death can be pretty depressing.

From the inside, being the soon-to-be-dead-dude, I can say that what I find worst is looking around at the landscape of my life, and knowing that this time next year I won't be part of it. My books will be given away, my tools will be used by other hands, the projects to which I've given sweat and sometimes blood will be finished by others...or scrapped.

And so it leaves me with a heavy heart...

Nah. I can't keep that up. At one time, thinking about that did cause a twinge, but, really, not more than that, because I've had the privilege of living a lot of life downrange from people who wanted to kill me (and I'm such a nice guy!). Death has always been at my elbow, and I can be irritatingly cheerful even when blood loss leaves me so weak I can barely rise.

It isn't depressing, for me. It just is, and it's incentive to make every moment count.

But for my wife...

It's not easy for her. She has other confidantes, and that is a good thing - I am the last person she should be talking to, regarding the depression she feels.

It's not that I don't care, and can't offer comfort...it's because much of the caregiver's depression is centered around what has happened to his or her life, and that creates a kind of evil dichotomy...

  • Being depressed because you can't live the way you want to when someone is dying seems so trivial...
  • ...and because it seems trivial it make's one's life seem trivial...which almost makes it the unwitting fault of the dying spouse.
In other words, one gets depressed at what life has become, feels shame because it isn't all that bad, considering, and is angry because that comparison 'has' to be drawn in the first place.

Does that make sense?

The thing is, comparisons are useless. Comparing pain levels, for instance...a hangnail hurts. So does a gunshot wound.

But the fact that a gunshot wound is more serious does not make the hangnail hurt less. Only if you've had both can you make that comparison..

My wife has not been down this road. I encourage her to go to the gym when she can, and when she talks about sore muscles...it's a good thing, because she's finally learned that keeping silent, and drawing shame from the well of comparison, is not necessary.

She used to say, But I shouldn't complain...and that did not make her muscles any less sore.. She felt that my condition...and in effect, I was silencing her.

Beyond changes to one's own life...yes, losing a loved one is difficult, and painful. The best thing you can do to counter it...both as a caregiver and as the dying spouse...is to make sure that the moments you have together are well-spent.

Not in the tragic 'our time is almost done!' mode, but with intentionality, and with care, and with the conscious putting-aside of those things that cause conflict and division.

It's tempting to say 'depression is a choice'...and leave the onus on the depressed person to lift herself by her own bootstraps. That's what a lot of pop psychologists do, and it's not fair. The situation's really depressing.

It's also tempting to say, Just turn to Jesus!" Well, yes, you should, but remember the shortest and perhaps best-known verse in the Bible..."Jesus wept."

Bad stuff happens, and it will make you sad. But you can melt that ice that builds around your heart through some fairly straightforward steps.
  1. No comparisons...your pain is valid
  2. Talk it out, but not with the 'source' of the sadness
  3. Clear away - or at least put aside, with counseling - divisive issues
  4. Spend the time you can with your mate, not because he or she is dying...but because you married this person, out of love.
In the end, love will triumph over depression, and over death.
Hope floats...and Love soars.

We're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday.


  1. Losing a loved one is the most painful thing anyone could experience.
    But you're right, what you feel is valid and you need to talk about it to ease the pain.
    I love that last quote. So real.

    1. I'm so glad you like the last line...I do try to live it. Not always well, but always with enthusiasm.

      And yes, losing a loved one is the worst thing. Depression's like a pit, and talking, knowing that others care..that's the bridge that takes you to the other side.

      Thank you so much for being here.

  2. For sure, let's give up tossing all those tired and trite easy-to-say suggestions and opinions and verses at those who are wounded. And simply sit with what is true.

    And offer a listening ear. A strong shoulder. And simply be present.

    To those who are dying. As well as those who will probably stay awhile longer ...

    1. 'Sit with what is true'...beautiful, Linda. You said that perfectly.

      And it is indeed a gift for the dying, and those who stand on the threshold of life, and everyone in between.

      Thank you for being here, my friend.

  3. You continue to amaze me here, Andrew. Thank you for sharing the inside view of what it's like, not only to be the one probably leaving first, but how that affects everyone else.

    1. Lisa, thank you...it's a hard 'share', because there are things I sometimes would rather not face, myself...call me Cleopatra,, I guess! (Yeah, Queen of De Nile...I'll wear a kilt to play the role...)

      But trying to look from the other person's view does help; it makes me realize that this process is not all about me. It's tempting to be selfish, say, :"Hey! I'm the one who's dying!"

      But living in loss can be more of an ordeal, and I have to remember that.

  4. This is excellent and I don't know where you find the strength to be that honest, but praise God that you do! It's like you have to talk about pre-grieving, and I'm not sure that's a legit term. God bless as you push forward...

    1. Well, let's make pre-grieving a legitimate term. It certainly applies, and we need to drop the veils that society sometimes holds up around grief...so that we can come in, and help, and hold the hands and hearts of the wounded.

      Writing this is hard, in a way, but it's easy in another way...when you want to dry tears, and you do your best to do that...it lends wings to your metaphorical feet.

  5. What you are describing is such a balance and a tension between feeling the imminent loss, but not allowing yourself to be consumed by it. Lean too far in one direction and you're in denial; lean in the other direction and you're in the pits. God is certainly giving you wisdom in dealing with this and in writing about it -- thanks for sharing and for teaching.

    1. I LOVE the way you described that, the dynamic tension that has to be maintained, and refreshed every day anew through the process.

      Thank you so much for being here. This process has been an honour for me; to be among, and supported by, so many great readers.

  6. Andrew, I don't believe many people articulate such thoughts as you have done in this writing. They remind me of a time in my life when I faced the possibility of death. I considered it carefully and realized that I wasn't afraid of death or dying, in fact , I could see that death could almost be seen as a a relief, to be out of the painful part of life's realities. The sadness I felt was more in regard to not being there for my family and those whose lives I am an important person. Realizing this was of comfort to me and helped remove the fear. I was working in the walnut orchard doing some pruning from ground level, my 12 yr. old daughter was with me, picking up the prunings after I cut them off the trees. I thought of her and the tears swam. Glad you are accepting this process in the best possible light, with courage and grace. All of us who follow your writings are connecting with your journey (and faith) and don't want that day to come when the silence arrives. You are an encouragement. Blessings to you.

    1. Norma, you hit it exactly. While increased pain and debility are undesirable, they really aren't the worst thing. The worst thing is, as you so gracefully describe, the leaving of those to whom you are important.

      I don't want the silence to come, either...I will fight to the last, but be assured that when it's over, I will be borne up with such a shout of support from these, my friends, that all God;'s angels are gonna need hearing aids.

      I am the luckiest man alive.

  7. Please remind Barbara that when you're gone her life won't be over. A grief support group ( if it's run well) should be a big help. But, while the grief will last, she'll be able to move on. God won't be finished with her yet.

    1. Thanks, Jan...I do remind her of that often, and she is taking steps to ensure that she remains connected to life. Fortunately, she's very well-thought-of at work, and the people there - devout Christians - will enfold her in love and grace.

      She'll be OK, and God's got her back.

  8. It is so hard not to be depressed when you're going through "whatever"; and, no one person can say one should or shouldn't be depressed. Everyone you have said is so true. I love this: "It isn't depressing, for me. It just is." Or, a more commonly stated: "It IS what it is!" (And I really don't like that statement at all; but...

    And the end: "In the end, love will triumph over depression, and over death.
    Hope floats...and Love soars." YES!

    But, everything in between and all around speaks volumns to all of us who at some point or another have been depressed; in pain; sad; etc. etc. And, if by some chance we haven't, I'm sure at some point we will...

    As always, Andrew...hugs and prayers to you both!!

    1. Yeah, I don't much like "it is what it is, either". Saying "it just is" sounds a little better, I think.

      Love soars...but it has to soar above something, above the grief. We can only appreciate the light when we know the darkness.

      But the light is forever. The darkness always ends with the dawn.

      Thank you so much for being here, Barbara, and for the prayers!

  9. Andrew, I came here to soak in all you've written...to understand as best as possible. Your writing, your sharing, in the midst of this is remarkable to me. Your willingness to share is priceless. I'm going to tuck this into my file for "when needed". I sigh heavily with that one...death stinks. I don't want to ever have to need it, but.... Write on, Brave Warrior, as you make a mark on each day and on the heart of your sweet wife.

    1. Kristi, I'm honoured by your presence, and by your words. Death does stink, and I would love for you never to need what you find here...but if it can be a comfort to you, at some point, or a comfort of another through you...I'll be more than content.

      Thank you for being here.

  10. And I would like to add, from my own experience and perspective, weep with Jesus--pour out your pain to Him. I think a lot of people feel guilty about that, thinking it is like complaining to God when we should be grateful. But God found David's mournful prayers so very important that He designated they should be included in the book of Psalms, along with others who poured out their hearts and tears to the Lord. That's where I've found the comfort to go on in that painful moment. I'm sure Barbara has done that as well, since you've talked about her strong faith here, I believe. But just wanted to put it out there for others who might read the comments. Hugs to you, sweet friend! Praying each day for your strength and that God's grace is felt even though still in your pain.

    1. You're so right - God does know our pain, but it's important that, like David, we acknowledge it in His presence. (Put another way, have you ever tried to bandage a five-year-old who was DETERMINED not to show you his cut finger?)

      Thank you for placing this in context, Beth - you've added to the post, made it complete - and I am grateful!

  11. These final four tips in the post above are golden.
    Thank you!