Last week, I was traveling when a deep sadness blindsided me during a flight. Here’s what I wrote:
I wish my dad were here. I’ve been working really hard lately – to make the world a little brighter with a children’s book, to help students & professionals launch into their next step through Ei, and to work alongside people interested in changing higher education for the better.
But honestly, some of what has driven me lately is just being ashamed that I couldn’t show my dad more of my work before he passed away. Though he tried really hard, it was challenging for him to understand what I was doing and why it mattered. It made me question if my grand pursuits were meaningful…and whether or not I should get a normal job with a steady paycheck and an easier life. Instead, I kept pursuing what I felt was right. I know he was proud of me, but he didn’t have a chance to *really* see it. To read the book. To spend time with the students. To meet me for coffee on Stanford’s campus after teaching my first class. To greet me at the airport when I fly home for my little brother’s wedding.
We were very different people. But when I look back at his life, I think about how bold he was. Pursuing my beautiful mother from a prestigious Egyptian family, immigrating to the US for a better life, learning a new language and starting a veterinarian practice in a big city, accepting a job with the government that would move three boys around the country, fighting with his demons until he won. Magdi Saad was bold. So I know that’s what he wanted of me – to do the right thing…boldly.
It’s funny how grief works. You think you’re ok. You have so much to celebrate. But then something happens or it just sneaks up on you like this. There are no quick fixes. You just need to give it time and let it pass over you.
And as I look at our world, I see a lot of grief – personally and societally. It makes me want to understand how grief works.
According to the famous psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the stages of grief include:
There is no rhyme or reason for when you might enter any of the stages. In fact you can cycle through all of them within minutes.
So when I see the onslaught of messages about political issues or the despair over devastating loss, one way I fend off feeling overwhelmed is by seeking to understand grief and exploring how to care for those experiencing it. Anger is appropriate. Bargaining is understandable. As my friend Matthew Hoffman say, “It’s ok to not be ok.”
But there is hope.
Kubler also writes that the final step isn’t merely acceptance. It’s integration.
Integration is using the situation to take steps forward. You use your past pain to make healthy decisions and even counsel others.
As someone who wants to solve problems, I find myself wanting to rush to this “good” stage of grief. And I definitely don’t want to share the hard stages of depression or anger that can surface. But giving all of the stages the time and attention they need is what helps you heal well and move forward in a healthy way.
It takes time & work
All of us will handle grief differently. But the one thing everyone needs is patience – with ourselves and with others. Be honest about why you’re feeling and reacting the way you are. And as the fog of grief begins to pass, you can begin taking steps forward – to implement change and care for others.
In time, good will come.
And, if you let it, it will come from you.