There are always steps and stages when it comes to processing a traumatic event. My mind instantly goes to the Kubler-Ross “Stages of Grief” Model, which was originally five stages but later modified to seven.
Of course, to think that everyone experiences grief in the same way is as ludicrous as expecting every rape survivor to react the same way when sharing her/his story with the cops, or expecting siblings to be just like each other simply because they share the same parents and upbringing. We all handle grief differently. Take me, for instance. The day that Nikita randomly and, without provocation, asked me that game-changing question
“Are you planning on getting that lump on your breast checked out?”
as we flew from PA to our respective home cities, I jumped right from “ignorant” (not a stage on the model, for the record) to “acceptance.” I got to my house later that day, stripped off my upper clothes, stared hard in the mirror, and knew immediately that I had cancer. I wasn’t in shock. I didn’t deny it. I didn’t ask a higher power, “Why me?” nor did I find myself angry with the universe for turning on me. I didn’t sink into a paralyzed state of depression; in fact, I went to work and acted the same way Instructor Ausburn always acted – day after day, with only two incidents of exception (and I kind of blame my boss for at least one of those two times [love you, Carissa!]). As I stood in front of that mirror, scrutinizing and taking breast selfies for the first time EVER IN MY LIFE, my gut had already told me that lump would turn into cancer; I accepted that reality long before the specialists and the pathology reports even confirmed it was true.
… But the stages – well, they sneak up on you sooner or later. Maybe you won’t experience them all. Maybe you’ll experience them in your own order. Maybe you’ll add some stages of your own – bring something new to the psychology table. But you’ll experience them. Like falling in love, a stage will probably sneak up on you when you least expect it – say, for instance, when you’re home alone for the first time in weeks, and you’re just standing next to your bed, folding towels while watching one of the recent episodes of The Fosters that you happened to miss because it aired when you had out-of-town guests. You might just be standing there, half-listening to the show’s dialogue, when a line from the script might jump right from the actress’ mouth straight into your gut … that same gut that initially accepted the news so rationally but is now doubled over in pain from being sucker punched. You might just hear a fake doctor on a sort-of-cheesy-sort-of-inspirational TV show tell one of the main characters, “The biopsy we did on your breast shows that you have ductal carcinoma in situ,” and before that doctor even has time to explain what DCIS is, you find yourself leaning over your bed, your hands balled up into tight little fists on top of those towels, and pushing out noisy sobs as your face is immediately bedraggled with tears and snot from a runny nose. And in that moment, you realize that you didn’t bypass those initial stages of grief at all; instead, you were just waiting for the right moment to go through each of them.