Kubler-Ross (1969) first addressed grief & loss as a series of stages one goes through to ultimately cope with the loss of a loved one. Generally five stages have been identified: denial & isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Some people think these stages are linear meaning you go from one to the next in order almost like working steps in AA or NA. Others recognize that life doesn’t always work that way and sometimes you move through things out of order or repeat steps or even get stuck in certain steps. Iyanla talked about the stages of grief being more like a spiral in one of the episodes of Fix My Life (don’t judge me for watching; I’ve got love for Iyanla even though I don’t always agree with her methods). She suggests that you move through that chaotic path sometimes crossing over things you already hit because your path is taking you there again.
I’m a huge fan of films in general but I was also fortunate enough to be born in the 80’s when films weren’t just about cheap thrills or a bunch of sex & violence but seemed to showcase more creative ways of resolving things. I’ve made some comparisons below between some classic 80’s movie scenarios or concepts that, in my mind, fit amazingly well with the stages of grief Kubler-Ross identified. Check them out below:
- The Nothing (Neverending Story I) = Denial & Isolation
- “A shapeless, ominous force created by human despair”
- Thinking “this isn’t happening” and trying to avoid the reality of the situation is normally what happens at this stage. In The NeverEnding Story, Bastian and Atreyu are fighting The Nothing. It’s basically human despair that is trying to erase Fantasia. Fantasia is a representation of all that is beautiful and magical and unique and intriguing and exciting… it’s about possibilities and that’s what sucks Bastian in. I feel like my babies were like Fantasia. They were everything beautiful and magical and exciting that I was looking forward to. When we lost them, it was like The Nothing came and obliterated all our dreams. I remember us falling asleep in the labor & delivery room the night before they were born and we both woke up around 2am thinking, “this isn’t happening” and telling each other we hoped it was all just a bad dream. The Nothing happened and we cut ourselves off from many things (social media, socialization period, outings for extended periods of time, etc.) because… what else can you do?
- “A shapeless, ominous force created by human despair”
- Flowers in the Attic (“Look at us mother! Do we look like you with your rosey cheeks?!”) = Anger
- I don’t know why this is one of my favorite movies or why I literally can recite it word for word from pretty much any point in the film, but Flowers in the Attic is a film I will ALWAYS turn to when it’s on. It’s so loaded and even though the book is different (and better, as usual), I still enjoy the film because I grew up with it and didn’t read the book until I was in high school. It’s placement here is related to the anger stage. I’m specifically thinking of that moment when Cathy snapped out on her mom when Cory got sick from eating those arsenic-laced cookies. She screamed at her mom for leaving them, not visiting and coming in with her “rosey cheeks” so her mom slapped her. Cathy slapped that heifer right back and said, “damn you to hell momma!” Cathy had been stewing in her upset about her mom’s behavior and she felt so insulted that her mom had the audacity to come in looking healthy & happy while they were suffering and being poisoned. In relation to perinatal loss, I feel like some of the anger comes from this very same place. Everything around you just keeps going on like nothing happened. People are out living their lives, your job may or may not be wondering where you are or when you’re coming back, people are out being all pregnant and happy or cuddling their cute-ass babies and you’re expected to just fall back into reality. “Do I look like you with your smiles and cooing babies?!” It almost feels like an insult to see people being all happy and blissful while you are suffering in the confines (and safety maybe) of your own home. You’re resentful… maybe you want to tell people with babies or belly’s (or even worse, belly’s and babies) to move the hell away from you… maybe you want to slap the doctors when they say, “we’re so sorry” or “there’s nothing we can do” or the dreaded, “they are not at a viable age…” It all can be infuriating and the fact remains, you don’t have the thing or things you wanted most in the world and it feels like something was literally stolen from you.
- Saving Miracles (Breakin: Electric Boogaloo) = Bargaining
- I grew up with THE biggest crush on Ozone and I always wanted to be part of TKO (as in Turbo, Kelly and Ozone if you’ve never been blessed with viewing the Breakin’ movies). In the second film, Ozone has founded a community center (Miracles) that helps get kids off the streets and offers a place for them to learn how to breakdance and do something positive with their energy. Then “the man” (of course) decides he wants to tear down Miracles and build a supermarket or shopping center in its place. The groups gets together and goes to townhalls, blocks the construction crews and ultimately goes on TV to garner support for saving Miracles by offering a free show accepting donations. People show up and show out! TKO along with the other Miracles dancers, Kelly’s parents AND even Electrorock (known rivals) come together and save Miracles. So obviously our stories don’t have this kind of happy ending but my point is about the lengths the group went through to try and change their outcomes. This reminded me of the bargaining stage of grief in that I don’t know about y’all but I asked a TON of questions to try and make my outcome different than it ultimately was. Can you put me on bed rest, can you give me antibiotics to prevent infection, can you put in a cerclage (stitch), can you go around the intact sack and take out the baby who’s sack ruptured if she can’t be saved, can you keep that baby on any kind of life support in the NICU, can you do surgery to remove the baby you’re saying isn’t at “viability”, can we stay overnight just to see if anything changes by the morning, if I go home and just relax can I keep them in until “viability”, YOU NAME IT!! Every question I asked was basically met with a “no” or a “we can’t because…” and we were completely devastated. I was hoping, praying, wishing there was something that could be done to save both or at least one of my daughters.
- Women of Brewster Place (Ceil after her baby died) = Depression
- Ugh when Ceil lost her baby… I can remember being a kid watching this film/mini-series and crying at how completely wreaked Ceil seemed. When Mattie (mama Oprah even back then) had to wash her up and help feed her and ultimately love her out of that catatonia, that was EVERYTHING! If you want to know what depression looks like AND if you want to know what depression looks & feels like after losing a child you love so much, WATCH THAT! There were many times I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed and had it not been for friends and family bringing us food, I don’t know if I even would’ve eaten. My appetite was gone, I felt both sleepy and like an insomniac at the same time, breathing even felt like a chore. It’s an odd place to be because sometimes I felt completely numb and then someone would offer me that Mattie kind of kindness and I would completely fall apart like Ceil. People loving on you and showing you support is really one of the keys to bringing you out of such a state in my opinion.
- The Emptiness (Neverending Story II) = Acceptance
- “Form of humanity’s dying imagination”
- So clearly I was a kid (and an adult: blerds unite!) who liked fantasy as this is the 2nd Neverending Story reference in this list but whatever. I had a pretty great childhood overall and I attribute some of that to my exposure to film. The sequel wasn’t as good at the first movie if I’m being honest but it still was watchable and caused the watcher to root for Bastian and Atreyu. This time, the enemy was called ‘The Emptiness” and it’s described as humanity’s dying imagination. Ok, this may feel like a stretch for some but for me, the feeling of emptiness was the worst kind of acceptance of what happened. Coming home with a flatter tummy was the first blow. The next was the feeling of hunger because I actually had a much decreased appetite when I was pregnant. I often didn’t feel hungry until I felt starving but usually not the empty sense of hunger. That was the second blow that let me know these days were different than the ones before. The third was the quiet and silence in my house that made it feel much bigger than it actually is. We both would sit with our thoughts, sometimes quietly, sometimes weeping… the absence of the joy we felt around our daughters was so palpable. The fourth blow was the blood. For those who don’t know, you basically bleed like a super heavy period after you give birth. It slows over time but it took me almost the full 4 weeks to completely stop bleeding. Once I did, it was a reminder that my uterus had emptied itself of all things babies. The final blow was the milk. Engorgement is painful as hell and I cried at both the physical and the emotional pain of not having babies to feed. My breasts were performing like rock stars but, there was no place to put all that liquid gold. Though I was relieved when the pain stopped and i no longer had what looked like brand new breast implants, I was extremely sad when my milk stopped. I literally felt like my body deflated and removed all remnants of my daughters being inside me… the sense of emptiness was so profound. It’s crazy how what used to be my normal body felt so foreign and unwelcome now.
- “Form of humanity’s dying imagination”
- I’m adding a stage called “The Glow” (The Last Dragon)
- When you recognize that the loss will be with you forever but you start to use it in ways to recognize your own strength, resilience, passion, drive and purpose. Let’s be clear, I’m not here yet. Like, I’m past the point where I realize Sum Dum Goy is a machine who makes up fortunes but I still don’t know that “I am the master” yet. I think I’m somewhere between Bruce Leroy running to his old master’s house about the machine and getting my ass kicked by the Shogun of Harlem aka Shonuff. I do think that when I find/get “The Glow”, I’ll know without knowing how I got there and I’ll confidently be moving through the world with my actualized purpose.
I’m still working through my grief and I honestly have no idea when I’ll be at a place of true acceptance or preferably, “The Glow”. Sometimes people will try to pressure you or tell you what stage you “should be in by now” but tell those people to shut it! You are where you are and you’ll move on when you’re ready to. This experience is your own and there’s no prescribed way to do it “successfully”. Like Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief & loss, every person doesn’t go through every one of these stages. I have and am going through them all but honestly, everyone grieves differently so you may stay in a stage longer than others or you may bypass a stage all together. Again, your process is your process and I’m a firm believer that as long as you are not hurting yourself or someone else, do you boo. Do you see yourself in any of these stages? Can you relate? Got another 80’s reference? Drop it in the comments below.