The Five Stages

Published in Esperanto Magazine – Exploration Edition:

I found out about the death of my friend Kat via Facebook.

It was close to midnight, and just before I was going to bed I decided to do a quick scan of my newsfeed. Much to my shock, it was bombarded with messages of loss and grief, each of them signing off with ‘Feminism. Empathy. Defiance.’, which was Kat’s infamous tattoo that encapsulated her personality.

This couldn’t possibly be true, I thought. I hoped it was some sick joke. But as I searched through her Facebook profile, my worst fears were confirmed. My friend Kat was gone. I would never see her again.

While death is an inevitable fate for all of us, it still remains terrifyingly original. It’s at the back of our minds for our entire life, but when it does come close to us, it provides a strange experience of which we are totally unprepared for.

I had never really experienced proper grief before, so to say that I was at a loss of what to say or how to feel would be a major understatement. I went to bed, though I didn’t get any sleep. When morning arose, I did my usual routine and went to work just like it was any other day. But as I was in my office and the silence drowned out the mental noise, all I could keep asking myself was, how the hell is she actually gone?

Grief tends to do that to you.

It sends you on a ravaging rollercoaster ride so intense that you become numb to a point where the world around you suddenly stops. You’re left to drown in a tidal wave of emotions as they smash against you in varying wavelengths. And when those feelings hit you, boy do they hurt.

They say that grief comes in five stages. First comes denial and anger, followed by bargaining, depression and acceptance. Since the beginning of time, we’ve been ingrained to think that exploring grief is a process – something that runs from A to Z or steps 1 to 5. When you get to that final stage of acceptance, life continues on.

This notion couldn’t be any further from the truth. In fact, it’s complete and utter bullshit.

The very worst part of grief is that the minute you think you are past it all, it starts all over again.  It could be the simplest thing that brings you back – an old photo, walking past the place where you first met, drinking at the bar where you last spoke. When you lose someone dear to you, often one of the only things you have left are the memories you had together.

I first met Kat when I was interning at a not-for-profit organisation, where she was the editor of Voiceworks, the literary magazine the organisation owned. On my first day, when I was introduced to her and I politely went for a handshake, all she did was stare at my hand and say ‘I’m not a shaker, I’m a hugger’ before wrapping me in the warmest hug I had ever received. I was shocked by her immediate kindness, but warmed by the fact that such beautiful people like her still existed in the world.

She had a ubiquitous presence about her. Like me, she too was a writer and I greatly admired her works.  She was so different, evolved, with a mindset that exceeded far beyond her years. When I learned of her death, it was our bond as writers that I struggled with the most. Writing would always bring me back to that feeling of devastating disbelief, and I didn’t want to be reminded of her because I didn’t want to be reminded of the fact that I would never see her again. So I stopped writing for a while, in the sense that the writing I did produce during that time lacked a substantial amount of pizazz and oomph.

When it came time for her memorial service, these stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – were all felt ten fold. While we regaled our fondest memories of someone gone too soon, I began to develop a strong resentment towards the fact that society had taught us that grieving is a step by step process. Hence its infamous name, ‘The Five Stages of Grief’.

This idea that grief comes with stages implies that we need to reach certain levels of progress before you move onto the next phase, and that therefore if you are not reaching the ‘right’ stage at the right time, then you’re doing it all wrong.

Grief doesn’t just stop. It comes and goes. Simply put, it just is. There are no steps or levels of progress. I couldn’t control when grief arrived – I just had to accept it when it came. And on the days that it went, I had to accept that I would feel fine the whole day and not have to blame myself for not being sad.

Kat, if you’re somehow reading this, know that I will never forget the wonderful kindness you always afforded me with. Not only was it a privilege to work by your side, but it was a privilege in knowing you and basking in your rebellious spirit against the norm. There are still days when I am startled at the realization that you are truly gone, that I will never again hear the sound of your smooth voice, see that bright smile on your face, or feel your familiar bear hug, but I take comfort in the fact that you are now in a better place.

Feminism. Empathy. Defiance. RIP Kat Muscat.

The only photo I have of Kat and I, where my face is half cut out. I’ll cherish it nonetheless.

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